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Tuesday, February 25, 2014, 08:04
Wiretaps, aides led to drug lord arrest: officials
By Agencies in Mexico City, Culiacan, Mexico and Washington

As Mexican troops forced their way into Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s main hideout in Culiacan, the country’s most powerful drug lord sneaked out of the house through an escape tunnel beneath the bathtub.

Mexican marines working with US authorities chased him but lost the man known as “Shorty” in a maze of tunnels under the city, a US government official and a senior law enforcement official said on Sunday.

It would be a short-lived escape for Guzman, who was captured early on Saturday hiding out in a condominium in Mazatlan, a beach resort town on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

It was a major victory for the Mexican government in its fight against powerful drug gangs and for the cause of cooperation between Mexican and US security forces.

Guzman had a military-style assault rifle with him but didn’t fire a shot, the officials said. His beauty queen wife, Emma Coronel, was with him when the manhunt for one of the world’s most-wanted drug traffickers ended.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss specific details of how US authorities tracked down Guzman.

For 13 years Guzman watched from western Mexico’s rugged mountains as authorities captured or killed the leaders of every group challenging his Sinaloa cartel’s spot at the top of global drug trafficking.

Unscathed and his legend growing, the stocky son of a peasant farmer grabbed a slot on the Forbes’ billionaires’ list and a folkloric status as the capo who grew too powerful to catch. Then, late last year, authorities started closing in on the inner circle of the world’s most-wanted drug lord. Bit by bit, they got closer to the crime boss.

Then on Feb 16, investigators from Mexico along with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the US Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement caught the break they badly needed when they tracked a cellphone to one of the Culiacan stash houses Guzman used to elude capture.

The phone was connected to his communications chief, Carlos Manuel Ramirez, whose nickname is Condor. By the next day Mexican authorities arrested one of Guzman’s top couriers, who promptly provided details of the stash houses Guzman and his associates had been using, the officials said.

At each house, the Mexican military found the same thing: steel reinforced doors and an escape hatch below the bathtubs. Each hatch led to a series of interconnected tunnels in the city’s drainage system.

The officials said three metric tons of drugs, suspected to be cocaine and methamphetamine, were found at one of the stash houses.

An AP reporter who walked through one of the tunnels had to dismount into a canal and stoop to enter the drainpipe, which was filled with water and mud and smelled of sewage. About 700 meters in, a trap door was open, revealing a newly constructed tunnel. Large and lined with wood panels such as a cabin, the passage had lighting and air conditioning. At the end of the tunnel was a blue ladder attached to the wall that led to one of the houses Mexican authorities say Guzman used as a hideout.

AP - Reuters

 
 
 
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