Mexico nabs drug kingpin 'El Chapo' Guzman

Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka "el Chapo Guzman", is escorted by marines as he is presented to the press on February 22, 2014 in Mexico City (AFP)

The world's most wanted drug lord, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, was captured Saturday by Mexican marines and publicly hauled away in handcuffs, ending his blood-stained reign after a 13-year manhunt.

Stemming from US-Mexican coordination, the arrest deals a blow to Mexico's biggest drug-trafficking organisation the Sinaloa cartel, an empire that stretches along the Pacific coast and smuggles drugs to the United States, Europe and Asia.

Officials said Guzman was captured in an early morning raid at a condominium in the Pacific resort city of Mazatlan, along with an unidentified associate, without a single shot fired.

"There was no damage and nobody was hurt," Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam told a news conference at the Mexico City airport's navy hangar, where Guzman was paraded in front of television cameras.

The 56-year-old cartel kingpin wore a white shirt and jeans and sported thick black hair and a mustache.

He was flanked by two masked marines who held him by the arms and neck before hauling him inside a federal police helicopter, on his way to a maximum-security prison.

US Attorney General Eric Holder hailed the arrest as "a landmark achievement, and a victory for the citizens of both Mexico and the United States."

The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Guzman, who is accused of being behind much of the drug violence that has plagued Mexico for years.

Major coup

Murillo Karam said the arrest was the result of months of collaborative work with US law enforcement agencies, which led to 13 arrests and the seizure of more than 100 weapons in recent operations.

The authorities had tracked Guzman down in Culiacan, Sinaloa state's largest city, and came close to capturing him between February 13-17 in one of the seven homes he was using.

But Guzman managed to escape through specially-built tunnels linked to city drainage systems as security forces struggled to break down a steel-reinforced door, Murillo Karam said.

A US security official said Mexican forces nabbed Guzman after acting on intelligence from the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

"We've been actively tracking him for five weeks. Because of that pressure, he fled in the last couple of days (from Culiacan) to Mazatlan," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Guzman's capture is a major coup for the 14-month administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto following the arrest of the head of the ultra-violent Zetas drug cartel, Miguel Angel Trevino, in July 2013.

Pena Nieto praised his security forces on Twitter, saying "congratulations to all."

Raul Benitez Manaut, a security expert and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, described the arrest as "the most important drug war capture of the last 10 years, a great triumph for Pena Nieto."

But it remains to be seen whether the arrest will weaken the Sinaloa cartel or reduce violence in Mexico.

The capture of a top capo can lead to internal wars of succession, or encourage rival gangs to attempt a takeover.

Analysts say Guzman's top associate, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, could peacefully seize the reins.

Laundry cart escape

Guzman, whose nickname "shorty" is a reference to his height, gained legendary status after escaping from a maximum-security prison in a laundry cart in January 2001.

Folk ballads known as "narcocorridos," tributes to drug capos, sang his praises. His third wife, Emma Coronel, is a former beauty queen.

His turf wars with the Juarez and Zetas cartels fueled a wave of relentless violence that has left almost 80,000 people dead in the past seven years.

Guzman was branded "Public Enemy Number One" in Chicago, joining American gangster Al Capone as the only criminal to ever get the moniker.

Born into a humble family of farmers in the Sinaloa village of Badiraguato, Guzman reached Forbes magazine's list of the world's most powerful people, standing at number 67, and was once listed as a billionaire.

As he grew up, he went to work for the godfather of Mexican cartels, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, who led the Guadalajara gang until his capture in 1989.

Authorities say the Sinaloa cartel emerged in the 1990s after Felix Gallardo's arrest caused his organization to split between Guzman's faction and the Tijuana cartel.

 

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