U.S. authorities have shut a sophisticated drug smuggling tunnel recently dug under the U.S.-Mexican border. The tunnel — said to be 2.4 miles long — linked a warehouse in Tijuana to another in San Diego, California.

Derek Benner, head of Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego, said it was equipped with lights, ventilation and an electric rail system. Mr. Benner said the zigzag route suggested the builders had gone off course. The tunnel runs about 10.7 m below the surface and is about 1.2 m high and 90 cm wide.

Three people were arrested and more than eight tonnes of marijuana and 147 kg of cocaine seized in connection with the “super tunnel”, which they said had been closed before being used for smuggling.

It was discovered by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force. The unit, set up about five years ago, had reportedly put the warehouse on the U.S. side under surveillance after learning about the purchase of drills and other construction equipment in August and September. Mexican cartels have become more dependent on tunnels in recent years as the fences along the 2,000-mile frontier become stronger and more extensive.

“These cartels have spent years and tens of millions of dollars trying to create a secret underworld of passages so they can move large quantities of drugs,” Laura Duffy, the United States attorney for the San Diego region told reporters.

This tunnel in particular was reportedly associated with the Sinaloa drug cartel headed by Mexico’s most infamous and elusive kingpin, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Archivaldo Guzman Loera.

A similar tunnel connecting Tijuana and San Diego discovered two years ago was also associated with the Sinaloa cartel. U.S. autorities say they have discovered more than 75 tunnels crossing the border since 2008, concentrated in California and Arizona.

The San Diego/Tijuana area is a popular place for tunnels because of the ease of digging through the clay-like soil of the area, as well as the existence of areas on both sides of the border filled with nondescript warehouses that help hide both construction and loading activities. In other parts of the border, cartels have adapted underground drainage tunnels.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013

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