Mexico’s most-wanted man, drug cartel kingpin Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, was captured on Saturday with help from US agencies in a major victory for the Mexican government in its long, grisly war on drugs.
Guzman, known as “El Chapo” (Shorty), has long run Mexico’s infamous Sinaloa Cartel and over the past decade emerged as one of the world’s most powerful organized crime bosses, even making it onto Forbes’ list of billionaires.
He was caught in his native Sinaloa State in an early morning operation without a shot being fired, Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said.
The arrest is a political triumph for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who confirmed the capture via Twitter earlier on Saturday.
Washington also applauded the arrest. The US had placed a US$5 million bounty on Guzman’s head and authorities in Chicago last year dubbed him the city’s first Public Enemy No. 1 since Al Capone.
Guzman’s cartel smuggled billions of dollars worth of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine into the US. He pioneered the use of sophisticated underground tunnels to smuggle drugs across the Mexico-US border and became a major narcotics exporter to Europe and Asia in recent years.
Guzman, 56, was captured in a pre-dawn raid on a seaside condominium in Mazatlan, about 1,220km from Guzman’s suspected base in Culiacan. He was then flown to Mexico City, where he was frog-marched to prison on live TV. It was the public’s first glimpse of Guzman since he escaped from jail in 2001.
The 1.7m-tall Guzman looked briefly toward TV crews on the tarmac at the Mexican Marines’ hangar, before a soldier shoved his head was back down.
Murillo Karam said security forces had nearly caught Guzman days earlier, but he had escaped.
“The doors of the house ... were reinforced with steel and so in the minutes it took us to open them, it allowed for an escape through tunnels,” he said.
They tracked him down again and waited for the right moment to strike, Murillo Karam said, adding that some US agencies helped in the capture, without elaborating.
Alberto Islas, a security expert with Risk Evaluation, said Pena Nieto ordered his Cabinet to catch Guzman immediately after taking office in December 2012 and gave the job to the Marines, widely seen as less corrupt than other forces.
Citing people involved in the operation, he said 25 Marines entered the condominium where Guzman was staying and evaded two security teams there. The operation took about seven-and-a-half minutes and neighbors only realized it had taken place when they heard the helicopter taking Guzman away, Islas said.
US Attorney General Eric Holder hailed the arrest as a landmark achievement, saying: “The criminal activity Guzman allegedly directed contributed to the death and destruction of millions of lives across the globe.”