Tags: Possible | Terror | Ties | Probed | Drug | Bust

Possible Terror Ties Probed in Drug Bust

Friday, 11 January 2002 12:00 AM

The Drug Enforcement Administration, along with other U.S. agencies and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, announced Thursday that the arrests in a dozen cities were part of Operation Mountain Express, an ongoing probe into the sale of pseudoephedrine, an integral ingredient in cold pills that is also essential in the production of methamphetamine.

"Equally as serious as trafficking illegal drugs is the illegal trafficking of chemicals used to produce drugs," declared U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

A large number of the individuals arrested were of Middle East descent or were listed as illegal immigrants from Israel and Jordan, which raised the question of whether a portion of the proceeds from the pseudoephedrine sales wound up in the bank accounts of terrorist organizations.

Although officials stressed no indication of terrorist ties had been found and that Operation Mountain Express was not specifically aimed at cutting off a source of revenues for terrorists, the FBI was looking at the money trail.

"Drug trafficking is going to take on a whole new meaning now," said John Iannarelli, an FBI spokesman in San Diego. "Originally, we looked at drug sales as something that profited the drug traffickers. Now, every citizen has to be concerned about whether drug sales are funding terrorist activities in the United States."

Methamphetamine has long been a lucrative business for motorcycle gangs and Mexican drug rings, however U.S. restrictions on the sale of the chemicals used to produce the stimulant has forced "meth cookers" to look for sources of pseudoephedrine outside the United States.

Authorities said the suspects targeted in Operation Mountain Express used small grocery stores to import large amounts of pseudoephedrine from Canada, which was then sold to the "meth cookers."

The latest phase of Operation Mountain Express resulted in the seizure of nearly 41 million pseudoephedrine tablets, reportedly enough to make 3,300 pounds of methamphetamine valued at more than $19 million. Most of the tablets were confiscated in Southern California, a long-time hotbed of methamphetamine production.

"This investigation will have a significant impact on pseudoephedrine availability and methamphetamine production, not only in California, but in the rest of the nation," said Michele Leonhart, head of the DEA office in Los Angeles.

Along with the arrests in Los Angeles and San Diego, authorities arrested a number of suspects in Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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The Drug Enforcement Administration, along with other U.S. agencies and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, announced Thursday that the arrests in a dozen cities were part of Operation Mountain Express, an ongoing probe into the sale of pseudoephedrine, an integral...
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2002-00-11
Friday, 11 January 2002 12:00 AM
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