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Notorious Mexican Drug Trafficker Arrested


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Mexican officials have captured that country's number one drug trafficker, Joaquin Guzman, also known as El Chapo. The announcement was made this afternoon by Mexico's attorney general who says the head of the feared Sinaloa Cartel was arrested by special marine forces without a single shot being fired.

We're joined now by NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Carrie, they've been looking for Guzman for 13 years. How did they capture him?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It was quite interesting. According to Mexico's Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam, it was quite a big operation that lasted several months. He briefed reporters this afternoon at the marine headquarters at the international airport. And the story that he told was that they discovered seven houses that Guzman frequented often in the port city of Mazatlan, and they were all connected by tunnels or the city's sewer system. And that using the tunnels, Guzman had been able to evade arrest up until now, but not on Friday night.

He was captured by a special marine task force and taken into custody. They waited till doctors made 100 percent identification that they had the right man, and they did. And the attorney general did add that U.S. officials assisted in the arrest, but he didn't give very many specifics about that.

RATH: Now, Guzman is wanted in at least eight different cities here in the U.S. He has multiple federal indictments against him. Can you tell us about the Sinaloa Cartel and what's going to happen with it now that he's been arrested?

KAHN: It's true, there are multiple indictments in the U.S. Chicago even just named him - last year, they named him public enemy number one. His cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel, has enormous reach. It's said to operate in many states in Mexico, throughout Central America, Europe and even Australia. U.S. drug officials have long said that Guzman's cartel is responsible for a quarter of all illegal drugs coming into the U.S. from Mexico. So he's definitely the world's largest drug trafficker.

But we have to keep in mind that the Sinaloa Cartel is more like a federation, and there are co-leaders of the cartel that are still out there. Because, usually, what we see when the head of a cartel is arrested, there's a spike in violence as lower lieutenants fight for control. But it's unclear what'll happen here given the way the organization is structured. I've talked to some analysts who say that it's very unlikely that Guzman's arrest will greatly affect the power or the scope of the cartel.

RATH: This seems like a huge prize for Mexico's president. Two previous administrations have tried and failed to capture Guzman. Is the president spiking the football?

KAHN: It's quite interesting. He usually doesn't say anything about high-level cartel members that are arrested, but he tweeted actually the official confirmation as we were all waiting. What's also interesting is he never parades the captured cartel members in front of the press. But this time, there was quite the perp walk at the airport. There were two soldiers in full gear, and their faces covered, one with each arm on Guzman and one had him by the neck.

You know, we haven't seen a picture of Guzman in 13 years since he escaped from a federal prison here. He looked quite different. He looked very skinny. He had very dark dyed black hair and a dark moustache. So it was very interesting to see this perp walk. And he was taken immediately to a helicopter, and he was flown to a federal office here in Mexico City.

RATH: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Carrie, thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.