Not a single shot was fired. The operation that began almost two months ago and ended in the arrest of the world’s most wanted criminal happened quickly and quietly inside the fourth floor of a residential building in Mazatlán, Mexico, a beach town famous for its carnival and popular with American tourists on cruise ships.
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán was the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, a powerful organization that supplies most of the illegal drugs sold in the United States. A business worth billions of dollars and almost incomparable power in Mexico. Guzmán was at the top of it all.
Last week, just days before president Obama arrived in Mexico to take part of the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, military and federal police forces, intensified their presence in various neighborhoods of Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa, the northern state that was birthplace to some of the most notorious drug lords in Mexico.
Marines exchanged heavy gun fire while they raided security homes and made key arrests throughout the city. Among those detained was Jesus Peña, the man in charge of security for the second most powerful boss of the Sinaloa Cartel, Ismael “Mayo” Zambada. For many, a sign that El Chapo’s right hand was on the verge of being caught. Mexican authorities, however, had someone else in their sights.
Marines also raided a house where El Chapo was hiding, according to intelligence reports from both Mexican and US sources. By the time members of an elite military commando arrived at the upscale residence in the Las Quintas neighborhood, where locals say most of the homes are inhabited by cartel members and their families, Guzmán had managed to escape through a network of metal doors and tunnels that connected the structure to other houses and the city’s sewage system.
This was not the first time authorities had come close to the elusive Chapo and there was some disappointment among high ranks of the Mexican government, but the arrests and the information gathered since early January would prove valuable a few days later.
According to Mexico’s attorney general, Jesus Murillo Karam, government officials learned right away that El Chapo had fled to neighboring Mazatlan, but made the decision to hold the assault against him in order to avoid any civilian casualties.
Guzmán ran a tight security detail. Dozens of armored vehicles, heavily armed men and sophisticated communications. Tunnels like the ones found in Culiacán, existed in other cities where he spent time. Unlike Osama Bin Laden, El Chapo never spent too much time in one place.
Then, on Friday February 21st, information came in pointing to a window of opportunity. El Chapo was spending the night in a rundown apartment building along Mazatlan’s shore line. Security was minimal. The decision to move in and capture Guzmán had been made.
When marines came inside apartment 401 at the apatment complex called Miramar, the most wanted man in Mexico was practically alone and posed no major resistance to his arrest, according to an official account.
The three bedroom unit was mostly unfurnished. Two egg cartons on top the microwave oven; a pan with black beans on the stove. Clothes and blankets were scattered around the place.
The two helicopters, the heavy weaponry and the police back up proved unnecessary. Neighbors heard people screaming but no gunshots. A few minutes after everything started, Guzmán was kneeling on the floor shirtless in handcuffs.
Close to 7am this morning, a group of marines wearing camouflage clothes removed Guzmán from the scene. The most powerful criminal in the history of Mexico would resurface only a few hours later in Mexico City after President Enrique Peña Nieto confirmed his arrest via Twitter.
While he was being escorted to the helicopter that would take him to a maximum security prison located just a few miles away from where President Obama visited this week, reporters shouted “over here!”
El Chapo, looking stodgy and with a thick mustache, glanced at the cameras with serious, deep look, knowing that his days running away from justice had come to an end.