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U.S. gun investigation questioned

WASHINGTON, March 4 (UPI) -- Guns allowed to come into the possession of suspected smugglers in a tracking operation were found at the scene of the killing of a U.S. agent, officials said.

Weapons bought by a known straw purchaser surfaced after the killing of a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent in Arizona, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday. The guns were involved in Operation Fast and Furious, a 15-month Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigation, the newspaper said.

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The BATFE, working with other law enforcement agencies, intended to track smuggled guns from U.S. suppliers to Mexican drug cartels.

Brian Terry was killed Dec.14 in a shootout near Rio Rico. Two weapons found at the scene had been bought by Jaime Avila, who was arrested soon after the killing.

Avila, a Phoenix resident, first came to the attention of law enforcement when a car loaded with weapons, including AK-47s, was found at the border. He had purchased three of the guns at a store in Glendale, Ariz.

The agency decided to try to track his purchases, officials say. But many of the weapons simply disappeared from view.

"That was the shift in strategy. We recognized we were facing a far more sophisticated trafficking organization," said BATFE spokesman Scott Thomasson. "We recognized the organization was a lot deeper in bodies, and we recognized that unless we went after the head of the organization, the person ordering the guns, ordering the violence, we were going to have little to no success in stemming the violence down there."

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Some agents told the Times they opposed the strategy, arguing that weapons should always be prevented from reaching the street when possible.

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