(Bloomberg) — The Trump administration is moving forward on calls to classify Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations after the killing of nine U.S. citizens in Mexico, with top officials seeking to reach a decision this week, according to three people familiar with the matter.
President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet Friday with top advisers at the White House to discuss whether to proceed with the move, said the people who spoke on condition of anonymity. Under the plan, the State Department would be allowed to designate cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, putting them in the same category as U.S. enemies including Islamic State and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Key administration officials are in favor of allowing such designations for drug traffickers, said the people. At least nine members of a Mormon family were killed in northern Mexico last month in an apparent attack by drug cartels, prompting Trump to say America would help wipe traffickers “off the face of the earth.” Trump later tweeted that an army may be needed to fight the gangs.
Trump told former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly last week that he had already offered assistance to Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador but that his counterpart had declined the offer. “I’ve actually offered him to let us go in and clean it out,” Trump said in the interview.
Trump appeared to refer to Mexico’s drug cartels during a news conference Tuesday in London, where he was attending a NATO summit: “We’ll be looking at other forms of terror. We’ll be looking at other countries. We’ll be looking at countries that are aggressive, and not just one particular part of this world.”
Narcotics traffickers can already be sanctioned under the Kingpin Act; however, the terrorist designation gives Justice Department prosecutors more leeway in criminal proceedings.
The terrorist designation “is a symbolic and moral condemnation of drug cartels,” said Peter Harrell, a fellow at the Center for New American Security, a Washington-based research group. “You’re sending a message that these are bad guys but also that these are terrorist organizations.”
–With assistance from Nick Wadhams.
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