Mexican drug lord escapes again
Mexico mounted an all-out manhunt Sunday for its most powerful drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who escaped from a maximum security prison through a 1.5-kilometre (1 mile) tunnel from a small opening in the shower area of his cell, according to the country’s top security official.
The elaborate underground escape route, built allegedly without the detection of authorities, allowed Guzman to do what Mexican officials promised would never happen after his re-capture last year — slip out of one of the country’s most secure penitentiaries for the second time.
If Guzman is not captured immediately, the drug lord will likely be back in full command and control of the Sinaloa cartel in 48 hours, said Michael S. Vigil, a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief of international operations.
“We may never find him again,” he said. “All the accolades that Mexico has received in their counterdrug efforts will be erased by this one event.”
Eighteen employees from various part of the Altiplano prison, 90 kilometres west of Mexico City, have been taken in for questioning, Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said in a news conference without answering questions.
A manhunt began immediately late Saturday for the head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, which has an international reach and is believed to control most of the major crossing points for drugs at the U.S. border with Mexico.
Guatemala’s Interior Ministry said a special task force of police and soldiers were watching the border with Mexico for any sign of fugitive drug lord.
“The U.S. government stands ready to work with our Mexican partners to provide any assistance that may help support his swift recapture,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
Associated Press journalists near Altiplano saw the roads were being heavily patrolled by federal police with numerous checkpoints and a Blackhawk helicopter flying overhead. Flights were also suspended at Toluca airport near the penitentiary in the State of Mexico, and civil aviation hangars were being searched.
Guzman was last seen about 9 p.m. in the shower area of his cell. After a time, he was lost by the prison’s security camera surveillance network. Upon checking his cell, authorities found it empty and a 50-by-50 centimetre hole near the shower.
Guzman’s escape is a major embarrassment to the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which had received plaudits for its aggressive approach to top drug lords. Since the government took office in late 2012, Mexican authorities have nabbed or killed six of them, including Guzman.
Pena Nieto arrived in France on Sunday and will stick to his planned schedule, according to a federal official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to be named. But Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, the Cabinet’s head of security, will return to Mexico from France.
Guzman faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U.S. as well as Mexico, and was on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s mostwanted list.
After Guzman was arrested on Feb. 22, 2014, the U.S. said it would file an extradition request, though it’s not clear if that happened.
The Mexican government at the time vehemently denied the need to extradite Guzman, even as many expressed fears he would escape as he did in 2001 while serving a 20-year sentence in the country’s other top-security prison.
Former Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said earlier this year the U.S. would get Guzman in “about 300 or 400 years” after he served time for all his crimes in Mexico.
He dismissed concerns Guzman could escape a second time. That risk “does not exist,” he said.
Federal police guard a drainage pipe outside of the Altiplano maximum security prison in Almoloya, west of Mexico City, Sunday after Mexico’s most powerful drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped.