THE Mexican army has sent heavily armed reinforcements in a fresh bid to capture the son of drug lord El Chapo.
Soldiers carried heavy machine guns off planes at Culiacan airport after the botched attempt to arrest Ovidio Guzman Lopez left eight dead, parts of the city ablaze and the authorities humiliated.
More than 200 soldiers were sent to the city on Friday evening, the security ministry said.
Security forces were attempting to enforce a federal judge's arrest warrant for Ovidio’s extradition, to the US.
The 28-year-old is accused of drug trafficking but, just like his drug lord dad, he was not prepared to go quietly
Ovidio Guzman Lopez — the son of jailed Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman — had been captured by cops in what should have been a significant coup for the Mexican government.
Yet in the gunfight that followed as his henchmen fought back.
Peace in the city of Culiacán — the capital of Sinaloa State and the stronghold of the Sinaloa cartel — was shattered at 3.30pm on Thursday.
Ovidio, 28, is accused of drug trafficking in the US but, just like his drug lord dad, he was not prepared to go quietly.
A patrol of 30 soldiers was said to have detained him and three other men in a home in the neighbourhood of Tres Ríos. But even as they celebrated the arrest, the patrol of 30 soldiers came under attack.
Like a scene from Netflix’s cartel drama Narcos, thugs circled the house where Ovidio was being held and ruthlessly fired machine guns at the security forces and cops for 20 minutes.
The cartel deployed henchmen — sitting on the back of trucks — throughout the neighbourhood and began burning vehicles and homes.
Running street battles between the gang and cops lasted another four hours.
The lives of many residents, many people, many human beings, were at risk, and the decision was made to protect the lives of the people
Videos showed heavily armed men in masks — some carrying .50 calibre machine guns and grenade launchers — halting traffic as fireballs lit the sky.
Amid the chaos, inmates at a prison rioted, seized weapons from guards and 56 of them escaped with 49 still at large. Two guards were taken captive and later freed.
Ernesto Martínez, a local crime reporter, had gone to report on a separate shooting when he ran straight into the gunfire.
He said bullets started flying and the soldiers yelled: “Everybody down, shootout!”
Mr Martinez added: “In my 21 years of covering crime at the heart of the drug world, this has been the worst shootout and the most horrible situation I have ever encountered.
“The sound of the bullets was so strong I could almost smell the gunpowder.”
He said there were burned vehicles and houses, while gunshots were also fired at government buildings.
Their staggering show of force caused the Mexican authorities to RELEASE Ovidio — turning their supposed coup into abject humiliation.
The shootout also showed the lengths the Sinaloa cartel will go to in protecting the sons of El Chapo, who was jailed in the US in July.
Since the drug lord’s arrest, in-fighting has beset the cartel as rival factions battle for power.
El Chapo is thought to have between eight and 15 children, with brothers jockeying for control. The two dominant children are said to be Iván Archivaldo Guzmán and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán — known as “los Chapitos” or “the little Chapos” — who are believed to currently run the cartel together.
Experts say the in-fighting was behind Thursday’s explosive gun battle — with gang members loyal to Ovidio looking to protect him.
Jaime López Aranda, a Mexican security analyst, told the New York Times the violence suggested chaos within the cartel.
He said: “I think that being so brazen and so open is the kind of thing done by organisations that are less disciplined and coherent and organised.
“The ability to exercise restraint is key to an organisation’s survival in the long-term.”
WAR STILL TO BE WON
In February, the Justice Department charged Ovidio and his brother Joaquín Guzmán López with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana in the US.
But authorities in Mexico hadn’t found Ovidio until Thursday. As video footage emerged showing bodies scattered across the streets during the gunfight, confirmation came that Ovidio had been freed.
It was a humiliation for Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. At a press conference yesterday, he said he freed Ovidio to stop more bloodshed.
He added: “Decisions were made that I support because the situation took a difficult turn.
“The lives of many residents, many people, many human beings, were at risk, and the decision was made to protect the lives of the people.
“You cannot put out the fire with fire. We do not want dead people. We do not want war.”
But the aborted arrest and the bloodshed prompted accusations the government had folded in the face of cartel firepower.
It also cast doubt on the president’s efforts to overhaul Mexico’s security strategy.
Mexican academic Carlos Bravo Regidor, from top think tank the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics, tweeted: “First it was an operational disaster. Then it was communications disaster. And finally it was a political disaster.”
The bloodshed is a new blow in Mexico’s war on drugs — during the country’s deadliest year since it began recording homicide statistics more than 20 years ago.
The violence goes to show that simply getting El Chapo off the streets was never going to end the bloodshed. The ruthless gangster rose from poverty in rural Mexico and became the most notorious drug baron since Colombia’s Pablo Escobar.
El Chapo’s cartel controlled almost the entire Pacific coast of Mexico and trafficked more than 150 tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana to America.
During his brutal reign at the top of the cartel, he meted out punishment to rivals with a diamond-encrusted handgun — while cultivating a Robin Hood-like image with the public.
Jailed in 1993, he escaped eight years later while hidden in a laundry cart and spent the following years moving from one hideout to another in the mountains. He was even guarded by his own army.
The cartel chief was imprisoned again in 2014, but fled from his maximum-security prison on a makeshift motorbike along a mile-long, 5ft 5in high tunnel dug by his henchmen.
The audacious escape captured the world’s attention. Extraordinary prison surveillance video released by Mexican officials showed El Chapo vanishing through a hole dug under his cell shower. But he went on to blow his cover through a series of slip-ups — including a bizarre meeting with Hollywood actor Sean Penn.
He was finally recaptured in January 2016 following a shootout in Sinaloa, where he was found in bed with 22-year-old wife Emma, an AK-47 and his twin two-year-old daughters. His trial this year took place in New York amid a huge security operation.
He was jailed for life plus 30 years in July and sent to Colorado’s ADX Florence — the highest security “supermax” jail in America.
Prosecutors said El Chapo, who revelled in his nickname “Shorty”, trafficked enough cocaine across the border for one line for every person in America. The cartel was also said to have formed an alliance with Romanian gangsters to flood Britain with cocaine.
While the battle with El Chapo is over — the war against his family is still to be won. Eduardo Guerrero, another security analyst, said of the bid to arrest Ovidio: “They went after him and they lost.”
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