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Gunrunners

Investigating the saga of the WASR-10, an AK-47 knockoff and weapon of choice for Mexico's cartels. A Web-exclusive report.

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The Murder of An ICE Agent

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AK-47s made in Romania, the subject of our Gunrunners investigation, have become the number one weapon recovered at Mexican crime scenes. And now one of them -- bought at a Texas store and smuggled into Mexico -- has been linked to the murder of a U.S. law enforcement agent.

According to court documents, a joint U.S.-Mexican investigation has identified a Romanian AK-47 pistol, called a "Draco," as being one of three guns used in a Feb. 15 attack by gunmen linked to the Zeta cartel that killed Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] Special Agent Jaime Zapata and wounded his partner, Victor Avila, as they drove between Monterrey and Mexico City.

Investigators traced the gun to Otilio Osorio, a 27-year-old resident of Lancaster, Texas. According to the criminal complaint filed against Osorio, he bought the gun Oct. 10, 2010, at a Joshua, Texas, firearms retailer. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives [ATF] agents arrested Osorio four days ago, along with his brother and a neighbor, for firearms violations.

The Draco appears to be increasingly popular among Mexican cartels. One ATF report shows that more than 10 percent of pistols traced from Mexican crime scenes between November 2009 and November 2010 were Dracos.

While shorter and lighter than an AK-47 rifle, the Draco has the same stopping power and firing capacity as a full-sized AK-47. It can hold a 75-round drum magazine and is capable of penetrating the protective vests worn by law enforcement.

According to former ATF special agent James Cavanaugh, a bullet from a Draco, "is going to go through your vest, through you and out the back of the vest."

The Draco is also cheap. Century International Arms, of Georgia, Vt., imports the Draco from Romania, and its suggested retail price is $425, although online it's as low as $329.95. Contrast that with the price of an AR-15 pistol, a comparable American-made firearm that's advertised online for $870 to $1,081.99.

This update is part of FRONTLINE's ongoing Gunrunners investigation, in partnership with the Investigative Reporting Workshop and InSight.

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posted January 25, 2011

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