Damian Dovarganes, File, Associated Press
MEXICO CITY — A massive operation that mushroomed through the western Mexican state of Sinaloa last week netted the world's top drug lord, who was captured early Saturday by U.S. and Mexican authorities at a condominium in Mazatlan, officials from both countries said.
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, 56, arrived at the Mexico City airport in the afternoon, looking pudgy, bowed and much like his wanted photos. He was marched by masked marines across a tarmac to a helicopter waiting to whisk him to jail.
Guzman was found with an unidentified woman, said one official not authorized to be quoted by name, adding that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Marshals Service were "heavily involved" in the capture. No shots were fired.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam described an operation that took place between Feb. 13 and 17, presumably in Guzman's home state of Sinaloa, though he didn't say what city.
Mexican security agencies came upon several houses where Guzman was known to stay, Murillo Karam said, adding that they found tunnels connecting seven homes and the city's sewer system, presumably for escape. The doors were reinforced with steel, which delayed entry by law enforcement, presumably allowing Guzman to flee several attempts at his capture before Saturday.
Murillo Karam didn't say how authorities traced him to Mazatlan, but said they knew of his whereabouts several times. They were unable to mount an operation earlier because of possible risks to the general public, he added.
Guzman faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U.S. and is on the DEA's most-wanted list. His drug empire stretches throughout North America and reaches as far away as Europe and Australia. His cartel has been heavily involved in the bloody drug war that has torn through parts of Mexico for the last several years.
His arrest followed the takedown of several top Sinaloa operatives in the last few months and at least 10 mid-level cartel members in the last week. The information leading to Guzman was gleaned from those arrested, said Michael S. Vigil, a former senior DEA official who was briefed on the operation.
The Mexican navy raided the Culiacan house of Guzman's ex-wife, Griselda Lopez, earlier this week and found a cache of weapons and a tunnel in one of the rooms that led to the city's sewer system, leading authorities to believe Guzman barely escaped, Vigil said.
As more people were arrested, more homes were raided.
"It became like a nuclear explosion where the mushroom started to expand throughout the city of Culiacan," Vigil said.
Authorities learned that Guzman fled to nearby Mazatlan. He was arrested at the Miramar condominiums, a 10-story, pearl-colored building with white balconies overlooking the Pacific and a small pool in front. The building is one of dozens of relatively modest, upper-middle-class developments on the Mazatlan coastal promenade, with a couple of simple couches in the lobby and a bare cement staircase leading up to the condominiums.
"He got tired of living up in the mountains and not being able to enjoy the comforts of his wealth. He became complacent and starting coming into the city of Culiacan and Mazatlan. That was a fatal error," said Vigil, adding that Guzman was arrested with "a few" of his bodyguards nearby.
One American retiree living in the building, who did not want to give his name, said he has lived there for two years and never heard or saw anything unusual.
Vigil said Mexico may decide to extradite Guzman to the U.S. to avoid any possibility that he escapes from prison again, as he did in 2001 in a laundry truck — a feat that fed his larger-than-life persona.
"It would be a massive black eye on the (Mexican) government if he is able to escape again. That's the only reason they would turn him over," Vigil said.
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