February 9, 2002

Honduran police break up drug, kidnapping ring

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) --Police have broken up a drug-smuggling,
kidnapping and bank robbery ring run by the Central American arm of
powerful drug cartels based in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, authorities
said Saturday.

Thirty anti-narcotics officers and special agents raided one of the gang's safe-houses
in the city of Lempira, near the border with El Salvador, before dawn Saturday.
Authorities storming the residence sparked a shootout with dozens of Honduran,
Guatemalan and Salvadoran gang members, police said in a statement.

One anti-narcotics officer was killed and another was wounded in the gun battle.
Authorities returning fire killed suspected gang member Johnny Villanueva, a
19-year-old Salvadoran national.

Also wounded during the raid was Villanueva's father, 38-year-old Jose Villanueva.
Authorities suspect that the elder Villanueva was the leader of the gang, which is
considered one of this region's most ruthless criminal syndicates.

Authorities were searching for another 10 high-ranking gang members believed to be
operating through out Honduras.

"We have begun an intense search of all of Honduras," the statement said.

Police said Villanueva's gang was responsible for more than 210 kidnappings in
Honduras and also abducted dozens of business owners and bankers in Guatemala
and El Salvador.

The crime syndicate also organized dozens of Honduran bank robberies and
coordinated efforts to move tons of Colombian cocaine through Central America's
Caribbean ports and onto destinations in Miami and elsewhere in the United States,
the statement said.

Honduran authorities say the gang worked closely with several drug-smuggling
organizations headquartered in the crime-infested city of Tijuana, just across the
border from San Diego.

A police spokesman said in a phone interview Saturday that authorities were working
to link the gang to the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix cartel, one of Mexico's most
powerful drug-smuggling syndicates.

Anti-narcotics agents staged Saturday's after receiving a tip that the unassuming
house had been rented in Villanueva's name. Authorities searching the residence
found a stolen car and a sizable arsenal of weapons including grenades, anti-tank
guns and AK-47s.

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.