The reign of the world’s most notorious drug trafficker came to an abrupt end Saturday when Mexican marines swooped on Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, a US security official told AFP.
After 13 years on the run, Guzman was captured at around 6 a.m. local time in a hotel in Mazatlan, a resort city located on the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, apparently without a shot fired, the official said.
The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Guzman, who is accused of being behind much of the drug violence that has plagued Mexico for years.
His arrest deals a major blow to Mexico’s biggest drug cartel, an empire that stretches along the Pacific coast and smuggles drugs to the United States, Europe and Asia.
Mexican forces were acting on a tip-off from the US Drug Enforcement Agency and US Homeland Security intelligence, the official said on condition of anonymity.
“We’ve been actively tracking him for five weeks. Because of that pressure, he fled in the last couple of days to Mazatlan,” the official told AFP.
“He had a small contingent with him,” the official said.
Guzman was believed to have been hiding in a house in Culiacan, Sinaloa’s largest city, but had fled as Mexican troops hunted for him. The house had extra-thick walls and escape tunnels, the official said.
The arrest is a major coup for the 14-month administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which captured the head of the ultra-violent and powerful Zetas drug cartel, Miguel Angel Trevino, in July 2013.
Guzman, whose nickname “shorty” is a reference to his height, amassed an immense fortune while authorities carried out their exhaustive international manhunt to capture him.
His turf wars with the Juarez and Zetas cartels fuelled a wave of relentless violence that has left almost 80,000 people dead in the past seven years.
He became a legendary drug lord after escaping from a maximum-security prison in a laundry car in January 2001. He had been captured in Guatemala eight years earlier.
His ability to sneak tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana into the United States made him “Public Enemy Number One” in Chicago, joining American gangster Al Capone as the only criminal to ever get the moniker.
Guzman “easily surpassed the carnage and social destruction that was caused by Capone,” the Chicago Crime Commission said in February 2013.
He used to be on Forbes magazine’s list of billionaires until the US publication said in 2013 that it could not verify his wealth and that it believed he was increasingly spending on protection.
But the 1.72-meter (five-foot-six) tall “El Chapo” remained on the Forbes list of the world’s most powerful people, standing at number 67.
Guzman was born on either April 4, 1957 or December 25, 1954, in the Sinaloa village of Badiraguato, according to various reports.
He became involved in drug trafficking in the late 1980s when he worked for one of the earliest leaders of Mexico’s modern cartels, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, who led the Guadalajara gang until his capture in 1989.
Authorities say the Sinaloa drug cartel emerged in the 1990s after Felix Gallardo’s organization split following his arrest between Guzman’s faction and the Tijuana cartel.
A turf war ensued, with a gunfight in 1993 at the airport of Guadalajara that killed the city’s archbishop, Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, allegedly because he was mistaken for Guzman.
Guzman’s family has paid dearly for his life of crime. One of his brothers was killed in a Mexican jail in December 2004 and a son was murdered in a Culiacan shopping center in May 2008.
He was reportedly married to a former beauty queen, Emma Coronel, and is believed to have had 10 children.