MEXICO CITY (AP) — The world’s most-wanted drug lord, Joaquin ‘‘El Chapo’’ Guzman, arrived at the Mexico City airport after his arrest early Saturday and was being taken directly to prison, said Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam.
Guzman appeared in a white shirt and dark pants and had a mustache and full head of dark hair as he was held at the neck and escorted by two masked marines.
A massive operation that mushroomed through the western Mexican state of Sinaloa between Feb. 13 and 17 netted Guzman, who was captured at 6:40 a.m. by Mexican marines at the Miramar condominium along the waterfront in the resort city of Mazatlan, officials said.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto confirmed the arrest on his Twitter account Saturday afternoon.
Guzman, 56, was found with an unidentified woman, said one official not authorized to be quoted by name, adding that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Marshals Service were ‘‘heavily involved’’ in the capture. No shots were fired.
Murillo Karam said a coordinated operation by several Mexican security agencies came upon several houses where Guzman was known to stay, though the prosecutor didn’t say in what city. He said they found tunnels connecting seven homes and the city’s sewer system, presumably for escape. The doors were reinforced with steel, which delayed entry by law enforcement, presumably allowing Guzman to flee several attempts at his capture before Saturday.
Murillo Karam didn’t say how authorities traced him to Mazatlan, but said they knew of his whereabouts several times. They were unable to mount an operation earlier because of possible risks to the general public, Karam said.
Guzman’s arrest followed the takedown of several top Sinaloa operatives in the last few months and at least 10 mid-level cartel members in the last week. The information leading to Guzman was gleaned from those arrested, said Michael S. Vigil, a former senior DEA official who was briefed on the operation.
The Mexican navy raided the Culiacan house of Guzman’s ex-wife, Griselda Lopez, earlier this week and found a cache of weapons and a tunnel in one of the rooms that led to the city’s drainage system, leading authorities to believe Guzman barely escaped, Vigil said.
As more people were arrested, more homes were raided.
‘‘It became like a nuclear explosion where the mushroom started to expand throughout the city of Culiacan,’’ Vigil said.
Authorities learned that Guzman fled to nearby Mazatlan, where he was arrested with ‘‘a few’’ of his bodyguards nearby, Vigil said.
‘‘He got tired of living up in the mountains and not being able to enjoy the comforts of his wealth. He became complacent and starting coming into the city of Culiacan and Mazatlan. That was a fatal error,’’ he added.
Vigil said Mexico may decide to extradite Guzman to the U.S. to avoid any possibility that he escapes from prison again, as he did in 2001 in a laundry truck — a feat that fed his larger-than-life persona. Because insiders aided his escape, rumors circulated for years that he was helped and protected by former Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s government, which vanquished some of his top rivals.
Calderon congratulated Pena Nieto on the capture Saturday via his Twitter account.
Guzman faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U.S. and is on the DEA’s most-wanted list. His drug empire stretches throughout North America and reaches as far away as Europe and Australia. His cartel has been heavily involved in the bloody drug war that has torn through parts of Mexico for the last several years.
‘‘It would be a massive black eye on the (Mexican) government if he is able to escape again. That’s the only reason they would turn him over,’’ Vigil said.
Experts predict that as long as Guzman’s partner, Ismael ‘‘El Mayo’’ Zambada is at large, the cartel will continue business as usual.
‘‘The take-down of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman Loera is a thorn in the side of the Sinaloa Cartel, but not a dagger in its heart,’’ said College of William and Mary government professor George Grayson, who studies Mexico’s cartels. ‘‘Zambada ... will step into El Chapo’s boots. He is also allied with Juan Jose ‘El Azul’ Esparragoza Moreno, one of most astute lords in Mexico’s underworld and, by far, its best negotiator.’’
Zambada’s son was arrested in November after entering Arizona, where he had an appointment with U.S. immigration authorities to arrange legal status for his wife.
The following month, Zambada’s main lieutenant was killed as Mexican helicopter gunships sprayed bullets at his mansion in the Gulf of California resort of Puerto Penasco in a four-hour gunbattle. Days later, police in the Netherlands arrested Zambada’s flamboyant top enforcer as he arrived in Amsterdam.Continued...