Authorities in southern Arizona have found a deputy wounded in a shootout with suspected drug smugglers after a frantic hour-long desert search.
Pinal County sheriff's Lt. Tamatha Villar says the deputy suffered a superficial wound to his abdomen after being shot with an AK-47 assault rifle Friday afternoon. He was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Casa Grande, about 40 miles south of Phoenix.
Villar says the deputy was doing smuggling interdiction work and found bales of marijuana in the desert. He then encountered five suspected illegal immigrants, two armed with rifles, and was shot.
A search was on in the rugged desert about 50 miles south of Phoenix for the five suspects. Hundreds of officers were involved.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
CASA GRANDE, Ariz. (AP) — Authorities in southern Arizona were searching Friday for a wounded deputy who radioed for help and said he had been shot with an AK-47 assault rifle in a remote desert area used by drug- and human-smugglers from Mexico.
The unidentified deputy called in to say he had encountered a group and been shot in the abdomen, Pinal County sheriff's Lt. Tammy Villar said.
Further details on the shooting were not immediately available.
"Over the past 12 months we've seen an increase in the amount of drugs, and an increase in violence that has been going on in this particular corridor," Villar told KPNX.
"We've had increasing concerns in this area about being outmanned and outgunned, and unfortunately this evening, this is coming true," he said.
The shooting came as Arizona grapples with backlash over its enactment of a tough new law targeting illegal immigration. Civil rights activists concerned the law will lead to racial profiling have called for a boycott of the state.
The law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer last week is supported by many in the state, which has become a major gateway for drug smuggling and human trafficking from Mexico.
Its passage came amid increasing anger in Arizona about violence, drug smugglers, drop houses and other problems caused by poor border security.
Villar said the search for the wounded officer was occurring near Interstate 8 and Arizona 84 about 50 miles south of Phoenix.
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