Mexico captures top drug lord 'Chapo' Guzman in massive operation

The Associated Press

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines at a navy hanger in Mexico City, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. A senior U.S. law enforcement official said Saturday, that Guzman, the head of Mexicoís Sinaloa Cartel, was captured alive overnight in the beach resort town of Mazatlan. Guzman faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U.S. and is on the Drug Enforcement Administrationís most-wanted list. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

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By ALICIA A. CALDWELL, ELLIOT SPAGAT and MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican authorities captured the world's most powerful drug lord in a resort city Saturday after a massive search through the home state of the legendary capo whose global organization is the leading supplier of cocaine to the United States.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, 56, looked pudgy, bowed and much like his wanted photos when he arrived in Mexico City from Mazatlan in Sinaloa state. He was marched by masked marines across the airport tarmac to a helicopter waiting to whisk him to jail.

Guzman was arrested by the Mexican marines at 6:40 a.m. in a high-rise condominium fronting the Pacific in Mazatlan. He was caught with an unidentified woman, said one U.S. official, who added that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Marshals Service were "heavily involved" in the capture.

A federal law enforcement official said intelligence from a Homeland Security Department investigation also helped lead U.S. and Mexican authorities to his whereabouts.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists. No shots were fired.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the capture a "victory for the citizens of both Mexico and the United States."

Mexican authorities, based on a series of arrests in recent months, got wind that Guzman was moving around Culiacan, capital of his home state for which the cartel is named.

Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam described an operation that took place between Feb. 13 and 17 focused on seven homes connected by tunnels and to the city's sewer system.

He said they had Guzman in their sights several times during that period but were unable to mount an operation earlier because of possible risks to the general public. The house 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.

A U.S. law enforcement official said members of Guzman's security team helped Mexican and U.S. authorities find him after they were arrested earlier this month. The official was not authorized to discuss details of the case by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

During the four-day operation, authorities arrested 13 people, 97 rifles, 36 handguns, two grenade launchers, a rocket launcher, 43 vehicles, of which 19 were armored, 16 homes and four ranches.

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.