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Updated Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 07:46 PM

US senator wants probe of guns in Mexico shootout

By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON
Associated Press

A U.S. senator is urging an investigation into whether two guns recovered at the scene of a shootout in Mexico that killed a beauty queen were part of the U.S. gun-smuggling operation known as "Fast and Furious."

Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said in a statement that he received tracing information on a semi-automatic pistol and an AK-47 assault rifle recovered in Mexico's Sinaloa state at the scene of a Nov. 24 shootout that killed at least three people, including 20-year-old beauty queen Maria Susana Flores Gamez.

He said one weapon was purchased by the key straw buyer in "Fast and Furious" and the other apparently by the main ATF agent who ran the botched operation, in which agents let suspected straw gun buyers walk away from shops in Arizona with weapons in hopes of catching trafficking kingpins working for drug cartels.

The lawmaker wants to know if the guns were bought in connection with "Fast and Furious," an operation in which U.S. agents lost track of about 1,400 of the 2,000 weapons involved.

Grassley's office said Thursday that he received the documents from whistleblowers but he was not available for comment.

According to the senator, the two guns are part of Mexico's investigation of the shootout in the town of Caitime, where the beauty queen was killed.

The prosecutor's office in Mexico has said a running gunbattle erupted when soldiers arrived in the town to find armed men had installed an illegal checkpoint. The troops chased the gunmen, who then holed up in a house. Three men were detained there but others escaped and shooting continued until they were stopped on a road outside town.

Prosecutors say Flores Gamez was traveling in one of the gunmen's vehicles. A federal official has said she got out of the vehicle with a gun in her hands and was used as a shield by gunmen so soldiers wouldn't fire. An AK-47 was found near her body, and tests indicated gunpowder residue on her hands, authorities say.

A gun-tracing document made public by Grassley says an AK-47 confiscated after the shootout was traced to Uriel Patino, the suspect identified by the U.S. Justice Department's inspector general as the top straw gun buyer in the "Fast and Furious" operation. It's not clear whether the gun found next to Flores Gamez was the one traced to Patino.

Mexican authorities have said a total of eight AK-47s were seized after the fighting in Caitime along with other guns, grenades, five trucks and three SUVs. The federal Attorney General's Office said in a news statement that one FN Five-seven pistol was confiscated after the shootout.

Grassley's statement said an FN Herstal Five-seven pistol recovered after the Caitime shootout apparently was purchased by the former assistant special agent in charge of ATF operations in Phoenix, George Gillett, who was found at fault in the Justice Department inspector general's report on "Fast and Furious."

The senator said the agent lied on gun-purchase forms, using the ATF's office and a commercial address instead of his home address.

U.S. authorities have said the criminal ring that ATF agents were after was believed to have supplied weapons to the Sinaloa drug cartel.

Guns purchased by the ring during the "Fast and Furious" operation have been found at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States. The most high-profile case was that of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was killed in a firefight north of the Arizona-Mexico border two years ago. Terry's family has sued U.S. officials over the gun operation.

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Adriana Gomez Licon on Twitter: http://twitter.com/agomezlicon


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