US strikes at Mexican drug cartel

American drug enforcement teams are celebrating a major success after a coast-to-coast sweep of traffickers and dealers in methamphetamines, cocaine and marijuana led to the arrests of 303 people, all linked to La Familia, one of the largest and most sinister of the Mexican cartels.

The arrests were the latest fruit of a four-year investigation, called Project Coronado, into the distribution networks built by La Familia in the United States. They were focused on Seattle, Atlanta, Minneapolis and San Diego.

US officials said the action illustrated both how deeply the cartel's tentacles have reached into the US and the commitment of the government to assist the Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who has waged an unflinching war against the cartels on his own turf without much visible support, until now, from his northern neighbour.

They also highlighted the viciousness of La Familia, which is in a state of perpetual war with the other cartels and the authorities. La Familia is ruthless about expanding its turf and punishing those who cross it with torture, kidnappings and decapitation.

"The sheer level and depravity of violence that this cartel has exhibited far exceeds what we have become accustomed to," said Eric Holder, the US Attorney General. "While the cartel operates from Mexico, the toxic reach of its operations extends into nearly every state in our country."

Since its launch, Project Coronado has yielded 900 arrests in the US. Those caught have ranged from cartel members in charge of regional distribution to dealers on the streets. The task of seizing the main leaders rests with Mexico.