El Chapo's Arrest Punctures Drug Lord's Near-Mythical Status One of the world's most powerful drug lords has been captured. Mexican authorities say Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was taken into custody after a months-long investigation.

El Chapo's Arrest Punctures Drug Lord's Near-Mythical Status

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

One of the world's most powerful drug lords has been captured in Mexico. The head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, Joaquin Chapo Guzman, was arrested early Saturday morning. He's known as El Chapo or Shorty and has one of the longest and most profitable careers in the drug world. He's been on the run for years, and according to Mexican officials, U.S. authorities aided in the operation.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: As the sun rose up over the hotel-lined beaches of Mazatlan, marine special forces moved in on a condo complex in the heart of the pacific resort city and captured Mexico's most wanted criminal. Chapo Guzman was arrested along with a female collaborator and, according to authorities, not one shot was fired. However it would be another nine hours before the arrest was officially announced.

JESUS MURILLIO KARAM: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Speaking to reporters at the Mexico cities' airport marine base, Attorney General Jesus Murillio Karam said doctors and federal investigators wanted to confirm Guzman's identity first. They are a hundred percent certain they got the right guy. Such caution is understandable given the mythical status Guzman has gained here.

He eluded capture for more than a decade. And when in prison 13 years ago, nearing extradition to the U.S., Guzman escaped a maximum security prison by hiding in a laundry bin. Sightings of him are frequently reported and his operation is said to be active in four continents, including Africa, Europe and Australia, with annual profits of more than $3 billion a year. That's plenty of money to bribe officials and pay a security detail that has long left him several steps ahead of arresting authorities.

Guzman's trafficking network extends to hundreds of U.S. cities and in at least eight he's named in federal indictments. Last year, Chicago's crime commission labeled him Public Enemy No. 1. Attorney General Karam said that it was last weekend when Mexican marines began to close in on the drug lord. Unfortunately, Guzman was able to escape through a complex series of tunnels connecting as many as seven safe houses.

KARAM: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: The doors in some of the houses were made out of steel. And Karam says and the time it took the marines to knock them down, Guzman slipped away through the tunnels. Karam says out of concern for local residents, forces waited several days and for the best opportunity before making the arrest.

Immediately following the press conference, Guzman, led by two camouflaged army soldiers - one with his hand clutching the back of the drug trafficker's neck - was marched before reporters and live TV cameras to an awaiting helicopter. His hair was dyed jet black, as well as a bushy mustache.


KAHN: President Enrique Pena Nieto, who's been in office for 14 months and has routinely downplayed drug violence in the country, is not one to parade captured drug traffickers in public. But given Guzman's status and that the last picture seen of him was taken 13 years ago, he got a grand perp walk.

George Grayson, an expert on Mexico's cartels, said the arrest was a big success for the Pena Nieto administration, but will unlikely damage the powerful tracking organization.

GEORGE GRAYSON: The takedown of El Chapo is a thorn in the side but not a dagger in the heart of the Sinaloa cartel.

KAHN: Guzman's second in command is Ismael El Mayo Zambada, expected to seamlessly take over without contention without contention from lower lieutenants. But in the central park in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa, residents were bracing for violence.

AMADO: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: This 53-year-old shoe shiner, who would only give his first name, Amado, says he's been listening to clients all day worrying about what's going to happen if rival drug cartels come in and take over Sinaloa.

AMADO: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says Chapo is feared here, but at least he kept Sinaloa relatively peaceful all these years.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.


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