Hikers and campers are taking heed after the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona issued a warning about Mexican drug cartel assassins operating in the county.
Sheriff Paul Babeu suggested people using back roads, trails and campsites in wilderness areas be armed and vigilant over the Memorial Day weekend. His office says Mexican “sicarios”—assassination crews—are operating in the area. The assassins regularly target rival “rip crews” ferrying drugs over the border and steal their money and drugs.
Police have reported numerous instances of armed confrontations in southern Arizona between rival drug runners. Since March, gun battles have taken place on I-8 near Casa Grande, outside of Arizona City, and on the Tohono O’Odham reservation.
In late 2015, Pinal County deputies arrested 21 suspected members of the Sinaloa Cartel. 40 others evaded arrest and escaped. In addition to the smugglers, deputies, and Border Patrol agents target lookouts, scouts who camp in the mountains and help direct the drug traffic through the desert. Sheriff’s deputies have found scouts with numerous cell phones, solar panel chargers, binoculars, even encrypted radios, according to an ABC News report in November.
”We are taking this threat seriously and believe that the public and my deputies deserve to know that there is an elevated risk of encountering gun violence in certain areas of Pinal County,” Babeu said in a Monday press release.
“I am concerned that when these cartel hitmen have armed confrontations with the rip crews in the deserts of Pinal County, innocent Americans and my deputies are going to be injured or killed,” the Sheriff continued.
“People who think that this is somehow far removed, that it’s happening in Mexico and that we’re all safe here, that’s not the case. This violence is occurring right here in our county.”
Babeu has argued that his department no longer controls wide areas of the county. In 2010, a Pinal County sheriff was wounded in a shootout with smugglers in a remote area near Casa Grande.
Pinal County comprises 5,366 square miles. It was the second fastest growing county in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010.
In February, Republican presumptive presidential candidate Donald Trump said it’s time the United States started treating Mexican drug cartels as if they were an “enemy army.”
Trump told Breitbart News:
Large parts of Mexico is a criminal enterprise. When you look at the drugs that are flowing across the border and the illicit things that are happening at the border, Mexico—large parts of Mexico—are a major illicit business. It’s happening to an extent that people didn’t know until I brought it up. If I didn’t make my speech on June 16, when I talked about the illegal immigration and the crime at the border, we wouldn’t be talking about this today. You wouldn’t be asking me the question.