Mexican marines recaptured fugitive drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on Friday following an intense military operation, six months after his spectacular prison break embarrassed authorities.
The chase for the world’s most-wanted drug lord ended in the northwestern city of Los Mochis, in Sinaloa state, the successful culmination of a months-long manhunt on Guzman’s home turf.
The 58-year-old’s arrest is a major sigh of relief for President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose administration was humiliated when Guzman broke out of a maximum-security prison on July 11.
“Mission accomplished: We got him,” Pena Nieto wrote on Twitter.
“It is the result of the permanent work of courageous service members of our institutions, who focused night and day on the mission that I ordered,” he said later in a televised address, flanked by his security team at the National Palace.
The arrest followed “intense and careful” intelligence and investigative work that “broke up the network of influence and protection of this criminal,” the president said.
Sinaloa’s governor, Mario Lopez Valdez, told Radio Formula that Guzman was recaptured in a hotel on the outskirts of Los Mochis. A federal official told AFP that marines were involved.
The navy issued a statement shortly before the arrest became public saying that five suspects were killed in a gunfight with marines in Los Mochis, but it did not say whether the raid involved Guzman.
Six people were detained after the shootout, which broke out when marines were tipped off about the presence of armed men in a home, the navy said.
The navy said a suspected gang capo escaped while a dozen weapons, including a rocket-grenade launcher, were seized.
US Attorney General Loretta Lynch hailed the arrest as a “blow to the international drug-trafficking syndicate he is alleged to have led, a victory for the citizens of both Mexico and the United States, and a vindication of the rule of law in our countries.”
“Guzman’s latest attempt to escape has failed and he will now have to answer for his alleged crimes, which have resulted in significant violence, suffering and corruption on multiple continents,” Lynch said.
– Extradition to US? –
Questions will now likely turn to whether Mexico will extradite Guzman to the United States.
Pena Nieto had refused to hand Guzman over to the United States before his escape, but the authorities have since then secured an arrest warrant to extradite him.
On July 11, after 17 months at the Altiplano maximum-security prison in central Mexico, Guzman slipped through a hole in his cell’s shower, climbed on a motorcycle mounted on rails, and traveled 1.5 kilometers (one mile) through a tunnel to freedom.
US and Mexican law enforcement officials say Guzman then flew to his home turf at the Sinaloa-Durango state border, where he is revered as a modern-day Robin Hood.
More than a dozen prison and federal police officials have been arrested on charges of helping Guzman flee, along with several associates of the drug lord who worked from the outside on building the tunnel.
Marines nearly recaptured him in October in a remote mountain region straddling the two states.
Authorities said Guzman injured his face and a leg while falling in the rough terrain, but special forces failed to nab him. Residents told AFP journalists that military helicopters had fired on their homes.
Guzman had been captured on February 22, 2014 in the Sinaloa resort of Mazatlan. He was found in a condo with his wife and their young twin daughters.
He had been on the lam for 13 years after escaping a first time in 2001 from another prison, in western Jalisco state, by hiding in a laundry cart. He had spent eight years in prison following his 1993 capture in Guatemala.
– ‘Lord of tunnels’ –
The man whose nickname means “Shorty” had used the money from a drug empire whose tentacles reach Europe and Asia to dig himself out of trouble.
He is a legend of Mexico’s underworld, with musicians singing his praise in folk ballads known as “narcocorridos,” tributes to drug capos.
With his daring underground escapes and ability to sneak narcotics under the US-Mexico border, he also earned the nickname “Lord of the Tunnels.”
US and Mexican authorities have regularly discovered sophisticated tunnels with rails and electricity to ship marijuana, cocaine and other drugs into the United States, with cash and weapons coming the other way.
Born on April 4, 1957 to a family of farmers, Guzman was recruited by Guadalajara cartel boss Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, the godfather of Mexico’s modern drug cartels.
After Felix Gallardo was arrested in 1989, Guzman’s Sinaloa drug cartel began its meteoric rise.
The mustachioed drug lord married an 18-year-old beauty queen, Emma Coronel, in 2007 and is believed to have 10 children with various women.
Guzman’s family has paid dearly for his life of crime. One of his brothers was killed in a Mexican jail in December 2004 and a son was shot dead in a shopping center parking lot in May 2008.