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Mexican officials seize van with drug-lobbing air cannon in Agua Prieta

Mexican officials have again seized a cargo van containing an air cannon designed to launch bundles of marijuana over the fence separating Douglas, Ariz., and its sister city of Agua Prieta, Mexico.

In a statement, the Sonoran office of the Mexican Attorney General said that elements of the Mexican military, along with members of the Agency of Criminal Investigation found the van, adapted with a "bazooka" designed to throw packages of narcotics into the United States.

Along with a hinged roof, allowing the air cannon to be raised and lowered inside the vehicle, authorities found an air compressor, a gasoline engine, and a tank to store the compressed air, reported El Universal.

Authorities also found more than 1,800 pounds of marijuana, nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition, and 26 magazines, authorities said.

Over the last year, Border Patrol agents and Douglas police officers have seized cylindrical bundles of marijuana launched over the fence in the area.

In August, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said that agents operating a remote video surveillance system watched as an object was hurled over the border near H Avenue and First Street in Douglas.

Wrapped in tape, the "large cylindrical bundle" contained nearly 100 pounds of marijuana, worth nearly $48,000, said Rob Daniels, a CBP spokesman.

In July, a Douglas police officer responded to two 911 calls that someone was launching bundles over the 18-foot high bollard wall. The officer found a large bundle wrapped in plastic and tape that had broken open on impact, revealing a cluster of smaller bundles. The bundle contained more than 140 pounds of marijuana.

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And, in December, two teenagers were arrested in Naco, just south of Bisbee, with a cylinder of marijuana, containing 34 pounds of marijuana.

This is the second time that Mexican officials in Agua Prieta have seized a van outfitted with a drug-hurling air cannon.

In September 2016, officials found a cruder version, complete with a square-barrled cannon that poked out of the roof of the van.

In February, former Tucson Sector chief Paul Beeson described the evolution of smuggling methods, telling Congress that while smugglers "previously threw, by hand, small loads of drugs over the border fence, they now utilize compressed air cannons to launch bundles of illicit narcotics in excess of 100 pounds over the border fence."

"These illegal operations are indicative of the ever-evolving and persistent intent" of criminal organizations to "exploit the border environment," Beeson said.

In the last few years, smugglers have used a variety of methods to get drugs into the United States ranging from a hand-made catapult near Naco to an "OctoCopter-style" drone, which dropped bundles of drugs after flying over the U.S.-Mexico border from San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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A van, outfitted with an air cannon designed to launch drugs into the United States, was seized by Mexican officials in Agua Prieta on Tuesday.