Four extradited Mexicans to appear before court

HOUSTON (AP) – A Mexican kingpin who commanded one of the most brutal and powerful drug cartels in the world was one of 15 purported drug dealers extradited to the United States last week, federal law enforcement officials said Monday.

“This is the first time in the history of Mexico that they have extradited to the United States what amounts to a clean sweep geographically of the cartel leadership,” Karen Tandy, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, told reporters by teleconference Monday. “These people are drawn from the (Tijuana, Juarez, Gulf and Federation) cartels. The level of these leaders is extraordinary.”

Osiel Cardenas, the accused leader of the Gulf cartel, was one of 15 leaders and workers from Mexican drug cartels who were flown into Houston late Friday and early Saturday to face charges in several U.S. states.

All 15 were scheduled to make their initial appearances Monday in federal court in Houston under tight security that included federal agents armed with automatic weapons on the roof and around the outside of the downtown federal building.

They face various drug-related charges in different states, including New York, Colorado and California, and will be shipped off to the states where they face trial, officials said.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon pledged Monday to wage a permanent war on organized crime.

“This is a permanent fight in which, unfortunately, many have lost their lives,” said Calderon. “We are fighting without pause so that these sacrifices will not have been in vain.”

Besides Cardenas, allegedly the leader of the Gulf cartel and running his gang from the Mexico prison where he’d been held the last few years, the group includes Palma Salazar, the alleged former leader of the Sinaloa cartel, and brothers Ismael and Gilberto Higuera Guerrero, former chiefs in the Arellano-Felix cartel in Tijuana.

Eduardo Medina Mora, Mexico’s attorney general, said Sunday the four defendants were extradited to stop them from communicating with their cartels from behind bars and to reduce the risk of violence and escape, not because of U.S. pressure.

“This decision was a unilateral and sovereign one by the Mexican government,” Medina Mora told a news conference Sunday in Mexico City. The aim was to break any “physical and geographical” contact they might have had with their gangs while in Mexican prisons. He also said Mexico plans to extradite other criminals and suspects who have exhausted their legal appeals.

Mexico has recently shown more willingness to extradite drug lords, even those facing life in prison.

A record 63 alleged criminals were sent to the U.S. in 2006 alone.

However, it refuses to extradite anyone who would face the death penalty, which is illegal in Mexico

Along with the four drug lords, Mexico also extradited 11 alleged criminals wanted in the United States on charges including murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and sex crimes.

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