By David Adams @dadams7308
The world’s most wanted drug lord, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, was back in custody on Friday, six months after his scandalous tunnel escape from a maximum security jail that deeply embarrassed Mexico’s government.
Guzmán appeared briefly before the press in Mexico City on Friday evening as he was transferred to a military helicopter. He was then flown back to the same jail he fled last July.
Dressed in a blue shirt and sweatpants, he was escorted across the tarmac by Navy Marines, who momentarily turned his head to face the cameras, leaving no question about his identity.
Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto broke the news about his capture nine hours earlier, on his Twitter account.
"Mission accomplished: We have him," Peña Nieto said. "I want to inform all Mexicans that Joaquín Guzmán Loera has been arrested."
The drug lord was seized after a gunfight in the city of Los Mochis in Sinaloa state, the drug lord’s fiefdom in the area of northwest Mexico known as the Golden Triangle.
Peña Nieto credited the capture of the elusive drug trafficker, known to Mexicans simply as “El Chapo” (Shorty), to “months of intense intelligence work that led to the identification, detention and dismantling of the network of influence and protection” around Guzmán.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also used its Twitter page to congratulate the Mexican government, recognizing “the courage that went into this capture.”
The manhunt details
Guzmán was nabbed on a road outside Los Mochis, following a gunfight at the trafficker's safehouse and a subterranean chase through storm drains, said Mexican Attorney General Arely Gómez González during a press conference.
Gómez González gave a detailed account of the hunt for Guzmán, which spanned the several months after his escape last July from the Altiplano jail west of the capital Mexico City. Authorities traced the fugitive to a ranch house in Durango state late last year, after he spoke with actors and producers to plan a movie about his life, Gómez González said.
After some of Guzmán’s collaborators were detained, including two pilots and his brother-in-law, he was eventually tracked down again at a house in Los Mochis, which authorities put under surveillance for a month before moving in early Friday, she said.
His arrest showed that “there is no criminal beyond the reach of Mexican government,” said Gómez González, seeking to revive public confidence in the country's much-maligned authorities, especially the security forces battling drug cartels.
It remains unclear if Guzmán will remain in Mexico or be extradited to the United States. American officials have requested his extradition, but it is unclear whether it has been formally approved by Mexican authorities. Guzmán faces a multitude of charges in the U.S. for cocaine smuggling and money laundering.
The arrest of the drug kingpin is a much-needed boost for Peña Nieto’s presidency, whose government has been buffeted by a series of corruption and human rights scandals.
After two notorious jail breaks spanning two decades, Guzmán's capture on Friday marked the third time the drug lord has been detained by authorities. Following his latest escape, several top prison officials were fired.
Getaway by drains
Earlier on Friday, Mexican officials announced that Navy Marines had raided a house in Los Mochis, in an operation that left five people dead after an intense gunfight that apparently involved Guzmán’s men. Six people were also arrested during the raid, and a number of weapons were seized, as well as two bulletproof vehicles, according to officials.
Mexican boxer Fernando “El Cochulito” Montiel, who lives next door to the house where the gunfight took place, told Univision: "They knocked on my door and told me they were looking for someone, and tomorrow they would tell me who.”
A short while after, one of the Marines told him “El Chapo” was detained on the outskirts of town after he tried to escape through the town’s storm drains. "There were three helicopters and guns and grenades going off for an hour or so,” said the boxer in a phone interview.
Rosa Gaitán Toledo, another neighbor in Los Mochis, said residents followed what was going on via a local police website, but it wasn’t until later in the day that they learned the target was "El Chapo".
Classes were cancelled and residents were advised to stay indoors. “This is a violent city. It's not that we're used to this, because you should never get used to living this way, but the troop movements are nothing new,” she said. “Even so, we were afraid. There was noise everywhere … and later we learned they were opening manhole covers in the streets, because that’s how "El Chapo" used to escape,” said Gaitán.
"El Chapo" was later photographed in the back of a car, shirtless, alongside one of his chief lieutenants.
Mike Vigil, former director of operations for the DEA, described the operation as “miraculous”, considering it was carried out in the heart of cartel territory.
Vigil said the biggest question now was where the pair of escape artists would be jailed.
Guzmán escaped from the Altiplano jail on July 11 via a mile-long tunnel, one that went from his jail cell bathroom to a house outside the prison security fences.
He was first arrested in Guatemala in 1993 and spent eight years in jail before escaping in 2001. Guzmán then spent 13 years on the lam before his second capture in February 2014. He had been held in the Altiplano jail for almost a year before his latest escape.