Mexico returns drug lord El Chapo to infamous prison he escaped from 6 months ago

Drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman is escorted to a Mexican Army helicopter in Los Mochis on Jan 8, 2016.
Drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman is escorted to a Mexican Army helicopter in Los Mochis on Jan 8, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

MEXICO CITY (AFP) - Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was back on Saturday (Jan 9) in the prison he escaped from six months ago after marines recaptured him, in part thanks to his desire to make a biopic.

Guzman was arrested in a deadly military raid early on Friday (Jan 8) that left five suspects dead in Los Mochis, a coastal city in his native north-western state of Sinaloa.

Hours later and wearing a dark shirt and sweatpants, the world's most wanted kingpin was frogmarched by marines into a military helicopter at Mexico City's international airport.

Attorney General Arely Gomez said the Sinaloa drug cartel boss was being "taken again" to the Altiplano prison, some 90km west of Mexico City, alongside his security chief.

On July 11, after just 17 months at Altiplano, Guzman slipped through a hole in his cell's shower, climbed on a motorcycle mounted on rails, and traveled 1.5km through a tunnel to freedom.

Ms Gomez disclosed details of the months-long investigation that led to Guzman's arrest, revealing that the infamous kingpin had even contacted producers in the hope of making a biographical film, and avoided capture in October as marines decided not to shoot because he was fleeing with a girl.

The manhunt culminated in a house in Los Mochis, which authorities began to stake out in December, Ms Gomez said. Unusual movement emerged this week, confirming that Guzman was there.

Marines were met by gunfire when they swooped in on Friday, leaving five suspects dead and one marine wounded.

Guzman and his security chief fled through the city's drainage system, repeating a tactic the drug kingpin successfully used in escaping authorities in 2014 in the nearby city of Culiacan. This time however the marines expected such a move, Ms Gomez said.

The wanted men came out of a manhole and stole a car, but they were captured on a road and taken to a motel, Ms Gomez said. Six others were also detained in the operation.

The 58-year-old's arrest is a major sigh of relief for President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose administration was humiliated when Guzman broke out of a maximum-security prison on July 11.

"Mission accomplished: We got him," Mr Pena Nieto wrote on Twitter.

Pictures published in the media show the mustachioed kingpin with a dirty, sleeveless shirt, handcuffed and sitting on a bed. A poster of a woman in a bikini is on a wall.

Another picture shows him in the backseat of a car holding his chin with one hand while sitting next to a shirtless man.

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch hailed the arrest as a "blow" to the Sinaloa drug cartel, and said that "he will now have to answer for his alleged crimes, which have resulted in significant violence, suffering and corruption on multiple continents". Questions will now turn to whether Mexico will extradite Guzman to the United States after balking at the idea before his July escape.

 

The Mexican attorney general's office secured an extradition warrant in September, but Guzman's attorneys won an injunction that could delay the process.

"The big question is not if they will extradite him, but when," Mr Alejandro Hope, a security expert and former Mexican intelligence service official, told AFP. "I don't think that the Mexican government wants to run the risk of another escape."

More than a dozen prison and federal police officials have been arrested on charges of helping Guzman flee, along with several associates of the drug lord who worked from the outside on building the tunnel.

Authorities tracked Guzman down in his home region of Sinaloa.

"Another important aspect that allowed us to locate him was that we discovered Guzman's intention to make a biographical film, for which he established contact with actresses and producers," Ms Gomez said.

Marines nearly recaptured him in October in a remote mountain region. Authorities said Guzman injured his face and a leg while falling in the rough terrain as he escaped.

"However, the criminal was accompanied by two women and a girl, so (marines in a helicopter) decided to not fire their firearms to not risk the lives of third parties," Ms Gomez said.

Guzman was captured on Feb 22, 2014, in the Sinaloa resort of Mazatlan. He was found in a condo with his wife and their young twin daughters.

He had been on the lam for 13 years after escaping from a prison in the state of Jalisco in 2001 by hiding in a laundry cart. He had spent eight years behind bars following his 1993 capture in Guatemala.

The man whose nickname means "Shorty" had used the money from a drug empire whose tentacles reach Europe and Asia to dig himself out of trouble.

Guzman is a legend of Mexico's underworld, with musicians singing his praise in folk ballads known as "narcocorridos", tributes to drug capos.

With his daring underground escapes and ability to sneak narcotics under the US-Mexico border, he also earned the nickname "Lord of the Tunnels".