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Mexico gives account of violence after arrest of Chapo’s son

Mexico gives account of violence after arrest of Chapo’s son

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — The operation to capture Ovidio Guzman, son of jailed drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, sparked gun battles that turned the northern city of Culiacan into a war zone, authorities said Friday.

In a detailed account of the fighting that killed 10 military personnel and 19 suspected members of the Sinaloa drug cartel, Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval said cartel gunmen opened fire on the troops with .50-caliber machine guns.

The military responded by calling in Blackhawk attack helicopters to attack a convoy of 25 cartel vehicles, including truck-mounted cartel weapons platforms, on Thursday. The ongoing firefights killed one policeman from Culiacan and wounded 17 policemen and 35 soldiers.

The cartel then opened fire on the military planes, forcing two of them down with a “significant number of hits” on each of the two planes, Sandoval said. The gang then sent hordes of gunmen to attack fixed-wing aircraft, military and civilian, at the city’s international airport.

One civilian plane was hit. The gunmen also fired on airport buildings in an attempt to prevent authorities from airlifting the captured cartel boss out of the city. But, Sandoval said, authorities, anticipating resistance, loaded Ovidio Guzman onto a military helicopter to fly him back to Mexico City.

The Mexican administration revealed the high-ranking cartel figure days before hosting US President Joe Biden.

Samuel Gonzalez, who founded Mexico’s special prosecutor’s office on organized crime in the 1990s, said Guzmán’s capture was a “gift” ahead of Biden’s visit. The Mexican government is “working to have a peaceful visit,” he said.

Juan Carlos Ayala, a Culiacan resident and University of Sinaloa professor who studies the sociology of drug trafficking, said Ovidio Guzmán had been an obvious target for years.

“Ovidio’s fate was sealed. Moreover, he was identified as the biggest trafficker of fentanyl and the most visible leader of Chapos.

Ayala said the atmosphere was calmer on Friday, “but there are still a lot of burned vehicles blocking the streets.”

The extent of Thursday’s violence was such that Sinaloa Governor Ruben Rocha said armed cartel thugs had turned up at local hospitals, trying to kidnap doctors and take them to treat wounded militants. Rocha said the gunmen would be treated if they showed up at hospitals, but that the gunmen should not try to kidnap medical personnel.

“It got to the point that at one point the doctors said, ‘we’re getting out of here,'” Rocha recalled, saying the police stepped up security and convinced the doctors to stay.

Culiacan residents posted a video on social media showing convoys of gunmen in pickup trucks and SUVs rolling down the city’s boulevards on Thursday. At least one convoy included a flatbed truck with a gun mounted on the back.

Despite the violence, Ayala said, many Culiacan residents may still support the cartel.

This may be due to the money the gang brings to the region, but also because local residents know that even after the federal troops withdraw, the cartel will continue to exist. As bad as it is, the cartel has provided relative stability, if not peace.

Guzmán was indicted by the United States on drug-trafficking charges in 2018. According to both governments, he has taken an increasing role among his brothers in running their father’s business, along with longtime cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard confirmed that the government received a request in 2019 from the United States to arrest Guzmán for extradition purposes. He said the request would have to be updated and processed, but added that the first open case in Mexico awaits Guzman.

Ismael Boyorquez, director of the local news bulletin Riodoce, which specializes in reporting on drug trafficking in the area, said the violent reaction was linked to the president’s less aggressive stance on organized crime.

“They (the cartels) took advantage of these four years to organize themselves, to arm themselves, to strengthen their structures, their finances,” he said. “I believe there are more guns than there were three years ago. All organized crime armies have strengthened, not just the Chapitos, and this is the price society is paying for this federal government strategy.

At the Culiacan airport, a commercial flight was waiting for its chance to take off when two large military planes landed with troops, as well as three or four military helicopters, and Marines and soldiers began to deploy along the perimeter of the runway.

As the airline flight finally prepared to take off, passengers heard gunshots in the distance. Within 15 seconds, the sound suddenly got louder and much closer, and passengers threw themselves to the floor, some said.

They said they didn’t know the plane had been hit by gunfire until the flight attendant told them. No one was injured, but the plane quickly retreated to the terminal.


Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez and Christopher Sherman contributed to this report.

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