December 13, 2017
Saturday, January 9, 2016

'El Chapo' sent back to prison he escaped from

Drug kingpin Joaquín ''El Chapo'' Guzmán is escorted into a helicopter at Mexico City''s airport following his recapture during an intense military operation in Los Mochis, in Sinaloa State.

Mexico recaptured the world's top drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán in a pre-dawn shootout and chase through drains yesterday, returning him to the same prison he escaped from six months ago, in a boost for the beleaguered government.

The head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel was captured in a car wearing a filthy vest after fleeing through tunnels and drains from a raid on a safe house in the city of Los Mochis, in his native northwestern state of Sinaloa.

"Mission accomplished: We have him," President Enrique Peña Nieto said on his Twitter account. "I want to inform all Mexicans that Joaquín Guzmán Loera has been arrested."

For Peña Nieto, the capture of a trafficker who twice slipped out of Mexican prisons is a sorely-needed victory after his presidency was tarnished by graft and human rights scandals and the shame of the kingpin's flight from the maximum security Altiplano prison in July.

It also provides relief to US-Mexico relations, strained by suspicion of high-level collusion given the apparent ease with which Guzmán gave Mexican authorities the slip after the United States requested his extradition.

Guzmán now faces possible extradition to face trial in the United States. That process could take months, although US Republican party presidential hopeful Marco Rubio was among those calling for Washington to immediately pursue extradition.

Once featured in the Forbes list of billionaires, Guzmán led a cartel that has smuggled billions of dollars worth of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines into the United States and fought vicious turf wars with other Mexican gangs.

He was caught early on Friday after Mexican marines raided his safe house, killing five and capturing six of Guzmán's henchman. They pursued the drug lord through the northern city's drains and caught him after a car chase through the outskirts, Attorney General Arely Gomez said.

He was flown to Mexico City and later transferred in a naval helicopter back to the Altiplano.

Guzmán, whose nickname means "Shorty", first escaped prison in 2001 by bribing prison officials, and went on to dominate the world of Mexican drug trafficking.

He was recaptured by Pena Nieto's government in 2014 but escaped in July by capitalizing on the drug-tunneling skills his cartel honed on the US border. A mile-long tunnel equipped with electric lights, rails and a motorbike came out directly into the shower of his prison cell and he simply slipped away.

The escape heaped embarrassment on Pena Nieto, who had resisted a US request to extradite Guzmán and had said previously that an escape would be "unforgivable."

Dozens of people were arrested over the jailbreak, though details of who Guzmán bribed and how his accomplices knew exactly where to dig into the prison remain scarce.

After stopping his getaway car, the Marines took Guzmán and waited for reinforcements at Hotel Doux, a love motel on the outskirts of town that rents out rooms by the hour.

Los Mochis residents described gunfire and explosions from about 3:30 a.m. (0930 GMT).

Schools were closed as helicopters clattered overhead.

"The teachers were coming out terrified because they had heard the rumors that he was fleeing in the city's drains," said Ana Bertotti, 30, a housewife who crossed town to find her child's kindergarten closed.

One photograph widely circulated on social media, appeared to show Guzmán sitting handcuffed on a hotel bed, in a room that resembled those shown on the Hotel Doux website.

He was wearing a filthy vest and a poster of a scantily clad woman was pinned on the wall behind him.

Another photo appeared to show Guzmán without handcuffs and wearing the same vest in the back of a vehicle next to one of his top assassins.

US officials and the DEA, which has had a bumpy relationship with its Mexican counterparts since traffickers tortured a US agent to death in 1985, took no credit and congratulated Mexico on the capture.

"This notorious criminal is – and will remain – behind bars, until he faces justice in a court of law," said DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg.

After coming under fire for failing to send Guzmán to the United States before he escaped the last time, Mexico said in July it had approved an order to extradite him north of the border.

On Friday, the US Justice department said its previous request to extradite to the United States still stands.

A senior Mexican official said the attorney general's office would quickly move to determine how Guzmán could be extradited, but that it could be months before he was sent out of the country.

Guzmán's lawyer in October appealed against possible extradition in case his client was captured.

Guzmán is wanted by US authorities for various criminal charges including cocaine smuggling and money laundering

In 2013, Chicago dubbed him its first Public Enemy No.1 since Al Capone, the gangster who won notoriety in the 1920s.

Believed to be 58 years old, Guzmán was born in La Tuna, a village in the Sierra Madre mountains in Sinaloa state where smugglers have been growing opium and marijuana since the early 20th century.

After Guzmán's first prison break, violence began to creep up in Mexico. The situation deteriorated during the 2006-2012 presidency of Pena Nieto's conservative predecessor Felipe Calderon, when nearly 70,000 people lost their lives in gang-related mayhem.

After he managed to outmaneuver, outfight or out-bribe his rivals to stay at the top of the business for over a decade, some security experts see in Guzmán's capture new hope for Mexico.

"This gives important credibility to the Mexican government. And the fact is, they're starting to move forward in implementing the rule of law," said Mike Vigil, former head of global operations for the DEA.

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Tags:  El Chapo Guzmán  captured  prison  Mexico  US  drug lord  

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