A massive operation that mushroomed through the western Mexican state of Sinaloa last week netted the world’s top drug lord, who was captured overnight by U.S. and Mexican authorities at a condominium in Mazatlan, officials from both countries said.
A senior U.S. law enforcement official said Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was taken alive by Mexican marines in the beach resort town. The official was not authorized to discuss the arrest and spoke on condition of anonymity. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto confirmed the arrest on his Twitter account Saturday afternoon.
Guzman, 56, was found with an unidentified woman, the official said, adding that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Marshals Service were “heavily involved” in the capture. No shots were fired.
A legendary outlaw and fugitive, Guzman had been pursued for several weeks. His arrest came on the heels of 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. 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.
On the DEA’s Most-Wanted List
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. His cartel has been heavily involved in the bloody drug war that has torn through parts of Mexico for the last several years.
Guzman’s capture ended a long and storied manhunt. His location was part of Mexican folklore, with rumors circulating of him being everywhere from Guatemala to Argentina to almost every corner of Mexico, especially its “Golden Triangle,” a mountainous, marijuana-growing region straddling the northern states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua.
A Decade on the Run
In more than a decade on the run, Guzman transformed himself from a middling Mexican capo into arguably the most powerful drug trafficker in the world. His fortune has grown to more than $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, which listed him among the World’s Most Powerful People and ranked him above the presidents of France and Venezuela.
His Sinaloa cartel grew bloodier and more powerful, taking over much of the lucrative trafficking routes along the U.S. border, including such prized cities as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. Guzman’s play for power against local cartels caused a bloodbath in Tijuana and made Juarez one of the deadliest cities in the world.
In little more than a year, Mexico’s biggest marijuana bust, 134 tons, and its biggest cultivation were tied to Sinaloa, as were a giant underground methamphetamine lab in western Mexico and hundreds of tons of precursor chemicals seized in Mexico and Guatemala.
His cartel’s tentacles now extend as far as Australia thanks to a sophisticated, international distribution system for cocaine and methamphetamines.