The world’s most-wanted drug lord was captured for a third time in a daring raid Friday by Mexican marines, six months after he tunneled out of a maximum security prison in a made-for-Hollywood escape that deeply embarrassed the government and strained ties with the United States.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced the capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, writing in his Twitter account: “mission accomplished: we have him.”
Few had thought Guzman would be taken alive, and few now believe Mexico will want to try to hold him a third time in Mexican prisons. He escaped from maximum-security facilities in 2001 and on July 11, 2015, the second breakout especially humiliating for the Pena Nieto administration, which only held him for less than 18 months. The U.S. has sought his extradition, though Mexico in the past has said he would serve sentences here first.
But Pena Nieto gave a brief live message Friday afternoon that focused heavily on touting the competency of his administration, which has suffered a series of embarrassments and scandals in the first half of his presidency.
“The arrest of today is very important for the government of Mexico. It shows that the public can have confidence in its institutions,” Pena Nieto said. “Mexicans can count on a government decided and determined to build a better country.”
Guzman was apprehended after a shootout with Mexican marines in Los Mochis, a seaside city in Guzman’s home state of Sinaloa, said a federal official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be quoted by name. He said Guzman was taken alive and was not wounded.
Five people were killed and one Mexican marine wounded in the clash at a house. It was unclear if Guzman was there or nearby when the raid was under way. Another law enforcement official said Guzman was captured at a motel on the outskirts of Los Mochis.
Given Guzman’s penchant for escaping through tunnels, the details of his capture, once they are released by Mexican officials, are sure to be startling.
After his first capture in Guatemala in June 1993, Guzman was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He reportedly made his 2001 escape from the maximum security prison in a laundry cart, though some have discounted that version. His second escape last July was even more audacious. He slipped down a hole in his shower stall in plain view of guards into a mile-long tunnel dug from a property outside the prison.
The tunnel was complete with ventilation, lights and a motorbike on rails, illustrating the extent to which corruption was involved in covering up such an elaborate operation.
In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration hailed the capture as proof of the close relationship between the two countries. “The arrest is a significant achievement in our shared fight against transnational organized crime, violence, and drug trafficking,” a DEA statement said.
The U.S. Justice Department commended the working relationship as well.
“I salute the Mexican law enforcement and military personnel who have worked tirelessly in recent months to bring Guzman to justice,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.
A Mexican law enforcement official said authorities located Guzman several days ago, based on reports he was in Los Mochis.
The official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, said authorities had even searched storm drains in the area. In 2014, Guzman escaped capture by fleeing through a network of interconnected tunnels in the drainage system in Culiacan, the Sinaloa state capital.
The Mexican Navy said in a statement that marines acting on a tip raided a home in Los Mochis before dawn. They were fired on from inside the structure, it said. Five suspects were killed and six others arrested. The marine’s injuries were not life threatening.
Marines seized two armored vehicles, eight rifles, one handgun and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher at the home, the statement added.
Photos of the arms seized at the non-descript white house showed that two of the rifles were .50-caliber sniper guns, capable of penetrating most bullet-proof vests and cars. The grenade launcher was found loaded, with an extra round nearby. An assault rifle had a 40-mm grenade launcher and at least one grenade.
Some in Mexico had doubted Guzman would allow himself to be captured alive, and others doubted that Mexico’s government — given the successive embarrassments of his two escapes from prison — would want to hold him again in a Mexican prison.
“Many people had doubted he could be recaptured,” Mexican security analyst Raul Benitez said. “It is a big success for the government.”
The United States filed requests for extradition for Guzman on June 25, before he escaped from prison. In September, a judge issued a second provisional arrest warrant on U.S. charges of organized crime, money laundering drug trafficking, homicide and others.
Former Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam had bragged earlier that Mexico wouldn’t extradite Guzman until he had served his sentences in Mexico.
Benitez said such bragging “makes me ashamed.”
“It would be better for the Americans to take him away,” he said.