Mexico captures drug kingpin 'El Chapo' Guzman

Posted at 02/23/2014 9:12 AM
Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman (L) is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the Navy's airstrip in Mexico City February 22, 2014. Photo by Henry Romero, Reuters.

MEXICO CITY - 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 the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's biggest drug-trafficking organization, an empire that stretches along the Pacific coast and smuggles drugs to the United States, Europe and Asia.

Guzman was captured at 6:40 am local time in the Pacific beach city of Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, along with an unidentified associate "without a single shot fired," Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said.

"There was no damage and nobody was hurt," Karam said in a brief news conference in a Mexico City navy base where Guzman was later paraded in front of television cameras.

The 56-year-old Sinaloa 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 prison.

The United States -- which hailed Guzman's downfall as "a landmark achievement" -- 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.

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

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 and powerful Zetas drug cartel, Miguel Angel Trevino, in July 2013.

"I recognize the work of the Mexican state's security institutions for detaining Joaquin Guzman Loera in Mazatlan," Pena Nieto wrote on Twitter.

The president had ditched the previous government's tradition of hauling captured capos in front of the media, but an exception was made for Guzman.

A US security official said Mexican forces swooped on Guzman in a hotel after acting on intelligence from the US Drug Enforce Administration and Homeland Security Department.

In recent weeks, Guzman was believed to have been hiding in a house in Culiacan, Sinaloa's largest city, but had fled as authorities hunted for him. The house had extra-thick walls and escape tunnels, the official said.

"We've been actively tracking him for five weeks. Because of that pressure, he fled in the last couple of days to Mazatlan," the official told AFP on condition on anonymity.

Guzman's top associate, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, remains on the run even though Mexican marines "almost got him" in recent operations against the Sinaloa cartel, the US official said.

- Laundry cart escape -

Guzman, whose nickname "shorty" is a reference to his height, amassed an immense fortune while authorities carried out their exhaustive international manhunt to capture him.

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.

He became a legendary drug lord after escaping from a maximum-security prison in a laundry cart in January 2001. He had been captured in Guatemala eight years earlier.

His ability to sneak tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana into the United States made him "Public Enemy Number One" in Chicago, joining American gangster Al Capone as the only criminal to ever get the moniker.

Guzman "easily surpassed the carnage and social destruction that was caused by Capone," the Chicago Crime Commission said in February 2013.

The 1.72-meter (five-foot-six) tall "El Chapo" was on Forbes magazine's list of the world's most powerful people, standing at number 67, and was once listed as a billionaire.

- A drug lord's rise -

Guzman was born in the Sinaloa village of Badiraguato.

He became involved in drug trafficking in the late 1980s when he worked for one of the earliest leaders of Mexico's modern cartels, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, who led the Guadalajara gang until his capture in 1989.

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

Guzman's family has paid dearly for his life of crime. One of his brothers was killed in a Mexican jail in December 2004 and a son was murdered in a Culiacan shopping center in May 2008.

He is married to a former beauty queen, Emma Coronel, and is believed to have had 10 children.

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