Mexican authorities say they arrested a man wanted in the killing of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, whose death led to the public disclosure of the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-smuggling sting.
Leonel Sanchez Jesus Meza was arrested in Puerto Penasco, about 60 miles south of the Arizona border, the Ministry of Public Security said Friday in a statement.
The investigation into Terry’s killing revealed the existence of Operation Fast and Furious, which sought to build arms trafficking cases against drug cartels and smuggling networks.
The “Fast and Furious” fallout led to a congressional investigation that culminated with the U.S. House of Representatives finding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
Meza, who was arrested Thursday, is being held with an international extradition request by the United States, the ministry said.
Robert Heyer, Terry’s cousin and chairman of the Brian Terry Foundation, said the arrest marked a milestone in the case. The family also is awaiting a pending U.S. Inspector General’s report, he said.
“This is a long-awaited arrest and a great development in the murder investigation of Brian. To the extent closure can ever be realized this is an important part of the process,” Heyer said in a statement.
“However, the key issue of government accountability remains. Why was the operation that killed Brian authorized and who will be held to account? These questions must be answered no matter how high we must look to get them,” Heyer said.
The Terry family will gather next weekend in Tucson, Arizona, and will hold the the first Brian Terry Foundation dinner on September 17, to be followed the next day with the U.S. Border Patrol renaming in Terry’s honor the border station at Naco, Arizona, a family spokesman said.
Mexican authorities say the suspect in Terry’s killing goes by the alias Lionel Portillo-Meza. He is the second person arrested in the case; three others are wanted and believed to be at large in Mexico.
The five were indicted by a federal grand jury in Arizona on several charges, including first degree murder, in connection with Terry’s death.
The indictment, handed down last year in a federal court in Arizona, accuses the men of entering the United States illegally from Mexico intent on robbing drug traffickers of marijuana.
Terry was killed during a firefight on December 14, 2010, between Border Patrol agents and the men in rural Rio Rico, Arizona, near the border with Mexico, according to the indictment.
Two guns found at the scene of the firefight were linked to Operation Fast and Furious.
As part of the operation, people acting on behalf of a buyer were allowed to illegally purchase large numbers of weapons in Arizona and transport them to Mexico.
Once the weapons crossed the border, the operation called for the weapons to be traced to the buyers — the cartels and the smuggling networks.
But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lost track of more than 1,000 weapons, including some that were later found at crimes scenes.