WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. authorities said on Wednesday that they have charged 10 alleged Mexican gang members with murdering two Americans and a Mexican man who had ties to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez.
U.S. Consulate employee Leslie Ann Enriquez Canton and her American husband Arthur Redelfs were gunned down in broad daylight on March 13, 2010, as they left an event sponsored by the consulate, which is located just across the border from El Paso, Texas.
The suspects, part of the Barrio Azteca gang, were also accused of murdering a Mexican man, Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, who was married to another consulate employee, around the same time in another part of the city after they left the same event.
"Without question, the arrests and charges that we are announcing today will disrupt Barrio Azteca's current operations," Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters. "Criminal by criminal, gang by gang, mile by mile, we will keep up our fight to end the scourge of violence along our southwest border."
He said the gang has been operating in western Texas and Juarez, Mexico as well as prisons in both countries since the late 1980s and has since expanded to become a transnational criminal organization.
The motive for the murders was not described in the indictment, but Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department's criminal division, told reporters that it could have been a case of mistaken identity.
Seven of the 10 defendants charged with the murders are in custody in Mexico, and the United States is working with Mexican authorities to extradite them for prosecution, the Justice Department said.
KILLING OF U.S. AGENT
The developments come as authorities in both countries investigate the killing of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent and the wounding of a second agent last month in a shooting in another part of Mexico.
Violence has plagued the area of Ciudad Juarez as rival drug gangs have fought for control of the city. Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a war against the cartels in 2006 and more than 36,000 people have been killed in connection with the struggle.
The drug violence was a major topic of discussion when Calderon met with President Barack Obama at the White House last week. Washington has been worried that the fighting could spill over the border and it has also prompted some companies to reconsider plans to invest in Mexico.
The United States has provided funds and training to help Mexico in its fight against the cartels and intelligence from U.S. law enforcement sources is credited with helping Mexico kill and capture several cartel leaders in recent years.
Prosecutors also revealed a new indictment against 25 others accused of being part of the Barrio Azteca gang and they were charged with a wide range of offenses including money laundering, drug offenses and racketeering.
Of that subset, seven are already in U.S. custody and 12 others were arrested in the United States on Wednesday. Three remain fugitives, including Eduardo Ravelo who is on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. There is a $100,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and James Vicini, editing by Cynthia Osterman)