Mexican authorities said Wednesday they foiled an audacious bid by one of toppled Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi's sons to smuggle himself and his family into the country as the regime cracked.
Government Secretary Alejandro Poire said intelligence officials uncovered an elaborate plan, at the height of pro-democracy protests in the north African nation, to bring Saadi Kadhafi and other relatives into Mexico on false papers.
Poire said Mexican authorities had broken up a well-funded international ring that included two Mexicans, a Canadian and a Danish national who had bought properties in Mexico "to be used as safe houses."
On September 6, "Mexican intelligence detected an illegal entry plan by Saadi Kadhafi and his family," Poire told reporters.
"The government avoided that risk and broke up an international network aimed at providing them with false identities as Mexicans," he said.
The group was preparing to use an extensive network of private flights that would eventually fly Kadhafi's relatives to an area on Mexico's Pacific coast, he disclosed.
Government spokesman Alejandro Sota said Mexico's "Operation Guest" led to the "capture and disruption of the network, which will face justice for alleged crimes related to the use of false documents, trafficking individuals and organized crime."
Poire identified the ringleader as Cynthia Ann Vanier, a Canadian with direct links to Saadi Kadhafi. She was captured in Mexico City on November 10.
A day later, authorities arrested Gabriela Davila Huert, the plot's primary Mexico contact, and document forger Jose Luis Kennedy Prieto, both Mexican, and Denmark's Pierre Christian Flensborg in charge of the plan's logistics.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner welcomed the foiling of the plot and said he did not believe the United States assisted the operation.
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"We commend the Mexican authorities for their good work," Toner told reporters.
Kadhafi, officials said, was to be given the false name of Daniel Bejar Hanan.
Saadi Kadhafi, 38, fled Libya across its southern frontier to Niger in early September during the fall of Tripoli amid the protests against his authoritarian father's 42-year regime.
On September 14, eight days after Mexico uncovered the smuggling plot, Niger officials announced he was under guard in the capital Niamey after being put on an air force plane from the northwestern town of Agadez.
Last month Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou announced his government had granted Saadi asylum "for humanitarian reasons."
Mexico has been under a harsh spotlight in recent years as President Felipe Calderon's war on drug traffickers has failed to stem the tide of violence that has left some 45,000 people dead and terrorized communities across the nation.
But Poire insisted that the success in foiling the Kadhafi plot demonstrated "the ability of Mexican authorities" to contribute to regional security.
Moamer Kadhafi and another of his sons were killed in October after their capture in Libya by forces loyal to the National Transitional Council.
Libya's new leadership wants Saadi Kadhafi to stand trial for crimes allegedly committed while heading the country's football federation.
Another Kadhafi son, Seif al-Islam, has been captured and the International Criminal Court has called on Libya's new rulers to inform them if and when they intend to hand him over to face charges for crimes against humanity.