SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Federal agents will start targeting high-level drug traffickers in Puerto Rico with intelligence gathered during a three-month blitz on criminal activity in the U.S. territory, the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday.
The campaign is part of a federal operation that began in July 2012 with help from local authorities that focuses on the smuggling of drugs, weapons, money and migrants.
The agency says agents have seized a total of 53,000 pounds (24,000 kilograms) of drugs, confiscated hundreds of firearms and arrested more than 320 suspected criminals who will be prosecuted at federal and local levels.
"We have not only made the streets of Puerto Rico much safer, but also improved security in the mainland United States," said John Sandweg, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The three-month blitz, dubbed "Caribbean Resilience," resulted in six federal agents fired upon, he said.
"This was dangerous work," Sandweg said.
Some of the firearms seized were homemade, including one gun that resembles a pen, said Angel Melendez, Puerto Rico-based special agent for Homeland Security Investigations of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The operation targeted six municipalities, including the capital of San Juan and the popular tourist town of Fajardo. However, Melendez said the operation was most successful in Ponce, Puerto Rico's second-largest city.
Officials said the drugs seized are mostly cocaine and some heroin imported from Latin America that is being sold locally as well as shipped to the U.S. and Europe. Weapons are being smuggled in from the U.S. mainland through checked luggage, and Transportation Security Administration officials have adjusted screening procedures to catch the firearms, the DHS said.
Agents have increased the number of cargo inspections and strengthened security at the main international airport by adding more dogs and officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The U.S. Coast Guard bolstered its resources in areas including the eastern portion of the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Mona Passage, a popular smuggling route that lies between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Nearly 30 agents with Homeland Security Investigations were assigned to the island over the past three months, and an additional seven agents were permanently deployed, DHS officials said.
The three-month offensive focused on street-level enforcement that allowed agents to cull intelligence following the arrests of dozens of suspects, the DHS said.
The island of 3.7 million people is struggling with a crime wave that brought a record 1,117 homicides in 2011.