US & Canada

ATF official apologises over Mexico gun probe

Seized weapons are displayed to the media by the Mexican Navy in Mexico City 9 June, 2011
Image caption At least 122 weapons recovered at crime scenes in Mexico have been linked to the sting, a report said

A US official has apologised and told Congress he shares responsibility for a botched operation to track the illegal movement of guns to Mexico.

William McMahon of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said he failed to properly monitor Operation Fast and Furious.

At least 122 weapons recovered at crime scenes in Mexico have been linked to the sting, a Congressional report said.

The weapons were reportedly obtained by drug-trafficking groups in Mexico.

Operation Fast and Furious saw US agents in Arizona allowing hundreds of guns into Mexico illegally with the hope of tracking them to major arms dealers.

But the sting did not lead to any arrests and many of the smuggled guns were later found at crime scenes.

'Frequent assessments needed'

Mr McMahon, who heads the agency's western region, said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had good intentions when it launched the sting in 2009.

He added that there were things the ATF would have done differently in carrying out the operation, which has sparked outrage across the US and Mexico.

Speaking before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, William Newell, the ATF official formerly in charge of the agency's Phoenix field division said frequent assessments of risky strategies like the one used in Fast and Furious would be "prudent".

Mr Newell made repeated claims that those running the operation had not intended to allow the guns to wind up in Mexico.

Though the ATF has not revealed how many agents are working on Fast and Furious, 260 agents have participated in similar probes around the US-Mexico border.

The ATF has 4,600 open investigations under Project Gunrunner, an operation aimed at plugging the flow of firearms into Mexico.

Earlier this month, a new government rule was put in place, requiring weapons dealers in the south-west US to contact authorities when more than two semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines are purchased.

The rule will affect dealers in Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico.

Operation Fast and Furious saw US agents allowing hundreds of guns into Mexico illegally with the hope of tracking them to major arms dealers.

In January, the Mexican government released figures suggesting that at least 34,612 people had died in drug-related violence in Mexico since December 2006.

There is speculation the figure may now have passed 40,000.

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