World's most wanted drugs trafficker spent his final days of freedom scrambling through tunnels and drains
Jo Tuckman in Mexico City, Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Sunday 23 February 2014 14.46 EST
Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán spent his final days of freedom scrambling through tunnels and drains. Photograph: Xinhua /Landov / Barcroft Media
Washington will seek the extradition of Mexico's most-wanted man, the US attorney's office announced Sunday, as reports emerged that Joaquín Guzmán Loera spent his final days of freedom scrambling through tunnels and drains before ending up pinned to a bed in a beachside condominium unable to reach a Kalashnikov rifle lying on the floor.
The arrest of Guzmán (known as El Chapo, or Shorty) in the Pacific resort city of Mazatlán just before dawn on Saturday punctured the myth of untouchability that had enveloped the capo since his escape from a high-security jail in January 2001 and his rise to the status of world's most wanted trafficker.
News of Guzmán's capture has been triumphantly received in the US, where he is blamed for up to 80% of the drugs trade in cities such as Chicago, with the official response emphasising the successful collaboration of the US with the Mexican authorities.
"[The] apprehension of Joaquin 'Chapo' Guzmán Loera, by Mexican authorities is a landmark achievement, and a victory for the citizens of both Mexico and the United States," said the US attorney general, Eric Holder.
"We are pleased that we were able to work effectively with Mexico through the co-operative relationship that US law-enforcement agencies have with their Mexican counterparts."
The secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson, called it a "milestone in our common interest of combating drug trafficking, violence and illicit activity along our shared border".
Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the US attorney's office in Brooklyn, said later that his office planned to seek Guzmán's extradition to face a variety of charges, although the Mexican ambassador to the US, Eduardo Medina Mora, hadearlier rejected calls for an American trial, saying it was important Guzmán was tried in Mexico.
Over the years there were numerous reported sightings of the highest profile leader of the Sinaloa cartel – named after Guzmán's native state – which already had a long trafficking tradition as far afield as Argentina. Guzmán was believed to spend most of his time, however, in the mountainous regions where he grew up in poverty.
A former high-level official of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, who was briefed about the arrest operation that involved American agencies, said Guzmán had tired of living without the luxuries he could so easily afford. "He became complacent and started coming to the city," Michael Vigil told the Associated Press.
"That was a fatal error."
The Mexican attorney general, Jesús Murillo Karam, told reporters that the authorities began closing in on the 56-year-old drugs kingpin this month once they had located a network of safe houses, one of them owned by one of his former wives.
But by time the team on his trail had got through a reinforced steel door to at least one of those houses, the capo had slipped away via a tunnel leading to the city's drainage system.
A video of one of the houses shows the entrance to the tunnel under a bath, which tipped up to reveal a metal staircase below. The 5ft 6in (160cm) Chapo already had a reputation as a pioneer in the use of tunnels under the border to move drugs north and money south.
The manhunt in nearby Culiacán was accompanied by the arrest of a number of second-tier figures in the Sinaloa cartel, along with dozens of weapons, which may have helped the authorities follow his trail to a 10-floor holiday apartment block called the Miramar, on the coastal road through the city of Mazatlán, Sinaloa's main seaside resort.
Witnesses told local media that the capo had moved into the flat two days before his capture and kept a low profile. Few were willing to give many details about the much-feared drug lord.
According to a report in the Milenio newspaper, dozens of navy operatives isolated the block a little before 4am on Saturday, and quickly dominated a single lookout on the ground floor.
It was a far cry from the multiple security perimeters that had protected Guzmán in the Sierra, with the help of tip-offs from corrupt authorities. These had ensured he could woo a teenage beauty queen, who would later become his wife, with a two-day party in 2007 without being bothered.
When the authorities reached a laboratory in the same mountain range, reputedly capable of producing 100kg of crystal meth a day in 2009, the only sign of El Chapo's possible presence was a large quantity of designer suits for a very short man, as well as a catalogue of Colombian models.
But in the Mazatlán apartment block was bereft of even door reinforcements.
According to the Milenio report, the marines easily broke the lock on the door to flat 401 and immobilised Guzmán on his bed before he had time to reach for his AK-47 rifle.
A video of the apartment suggests Guzmán was living in comfort, though not in a style befitting a frequent inclusion on Forbes' rich lists. The video shows a pink suitcase on a bed as well as a travel cot, although there are no reports suggesting there was anybody else inside the flat at the time of the arrest.
On Sunday, the facade of the Miramar was crowded with passers-by and motorists taking photographs of the cream-coloured Miramar condominium block with its white balconies.
By then Guzmán was locked up again in the Altiplano high-security jail, though not the same one he had left behind so embarrassingly for the authorities 13 years ago, inevitably alluded to in a rash of ballads, orcorridos, that immediately turned up on YouTube.
One has the lines: "With the capture of El Chapo things are not going to change / Let's see if he doesn't surprise them and escape again."