Mexican authorities snared drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in a bloody raid Friday aimed at capturing one of the world’s most notorious and slippery criminals.
“Mission Accomplished,” Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced Friday via Twitter. “We have him.”
Members of Mexico’s navy caught him in an operation around 4:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m. ET) in the coastal city of Los Mochis in Sinaloa state, a senior law enforcement official in Mexico told CNN. Several people aligned with Guzman died in the raid.
“This was a coordinated effort by multiple intelligence agencies,” the official said.
Guzman’s capture represents a major success in what has been an embarrassing ordeal for Mexico. For many, “El Chapo” has been a symbol of the Mexican government’s ineptitude and corruption. He has led one of the country’s most powerful, violent drug cartels and escaped maximum-security prisons not once, but twice, the latest in July when he busted out through a hole into a mile-long tunnel and then on to freedom.
Last year’s breakout spurred major criticism about the Mexican government’s ability to safeguard such a notorious criminal, with some saying he should have been held in the United States.
Led one of Mexico’s richest, most violent cartels
Born in Badiraguato in Sinaloa state, Guzman started his career in the drug trade working for Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, according to Time magazine in 2009.
He started his own cartel in 1980, expanding it into other states and even poaching some of his mentor’s territory.
That creation — the Sinaloa cartel — soon became Mexico’s most powerful and richest, a multibillion empire that supplied much of the marijuana, cocaine and heroin sold on American streets.
It was also one of the most violent. U.S. indictments claim the organization used assassins and hit squads to show its muscle.
The rivalry with other drug cartels has spurred an ongoing drug war that’s left thousands of Mexicans dead.
“He’s the epitome of the problem,” Malcolm Beith, author of “The Last Narco,” said of the man whose nickname translates as “Shorty.” “He’s a poor kid who had some family connections in the drug trade, no options, no real education … (and) becomes a big-time drug lord.”
Daring escapes create a legend
Authorities first caught up with Guzman in 1993 in Guatemala. He was extradited to Mexico and sent to the Puente Grande maximum-security prison following his conviction.
Yet even behind bars, Guzman lived like a king, Beith said. Eight years later he escaped via a laundry cart.
His legend grew as he evaded Mexican authorities, with stories of him helping the poor and paying everyone’s tab at restaurants.
Singers in Mexico and the United States even hailed his exploits, with rapper Gucci Mane singing, “All I wanna be is El Chapo. And when I meet him I’mma tell him bravo.”
But these exploits ended in 2014 with his arrest in a pre-dawn operation on his beachside hideaway in the Mexican Pacific resort town of Mazatlan. Authorities found a shirtless Guzman, with an AK-47 next to his bed, and his beauty-queen wife in a no-frills condo tower.
Intense manhunt after latest escape
This time, Guzman was sent to Altiplano Federal Prison in Almoloya de Juarez. But he escaped in July, crawling through a hole in his cell block’s shower area into a lighted, ventilated tunnel, then to a half-built house.
He then traveled north about 140 kilometers (85 miles) to San Juan del Rio, where two small planes were awaiting his arrival and took off from an airstrip, Attorney General Arely Gomez has said.
At the time, the Mexican President said he was “deeply troubled” by what he called “a very unfortunate event.”
“This represents, without a doubt, an affront to the Mexican state,” he said. “But also I am confident that the institutions of the Mexican state, particularly those in charge of public safety, are at the level, with the strength and determination, to recapture this criminal.”
Since his escape, Guzman had been rumored to be many places, including as far away as Argentina. In October, authorities revealed they were hot on Guzman’s trail, only to have him slip out of sight, though not before apparently breaking his leg.
Gomez said last fall that 34 people have been detained in connection with Guzman’s breakout last year, including the drug lord’s brother-in-law.