‘It was like an action movie,’ neighbors say of El Chapo’s capture in Mexico

Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, right, is escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City on his way back to prison Friday.

Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, right, is escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City on his way back to prison Friday.

(Marco Ugarte / Associated Press)

His house was nothing special, a single-story, tree-shrouded home in a middle-class neighborhood in this seaside city. And there the world’s most sought-after drug kingpin hid for months until his capture in a deadly shootout.

Neighbors noticed his comings and goings, but without special attention. And then suddenly, the Mexican naval special forces descended Friday.

“It was like an action movie,” said Javier Torres, an 18-year-old student and neighbor. “The gunfire ... the helicopters woke us. There were lots of shouts.”


And with that, Sinaloa cartel commander Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was captured, in a shootout that killed six of his associates. It was six months after he escaped from Mexico’s maximum-security prison through a tunnel he dug under his cell.

His ability to elude authorities was due in large part to the support he has among rank-and-file Mexicans. He was also able to pay off local government and military authorities and spread largesse.

“It makes us sad because he is a good guy and gives us security,” said Los Mochis resident Mariana Ocampo, 21.

In the end, it wasn’t exhaustive Mexican detective work, nor sophisticated U.S. intelligence, that exposed Guzman’s whereabouts. It was ego and a chance at Hollywood.

Mexican Atty. Gen. Arely Gomez said Guzman had been in talks to produce a movie about his life.

“He established communication with actors and producers, which has formed a new line of investigation,” she said in a late-night news conference as Guzman was being transported from Los Mochis.


One of those contacts was apparently actor Sean Penn, who revealed in an article he wrote for Rolling Stone, published Saturday, that he had held a secret interview with Guzman in October at his jungle hide-out in Mexico.

Surrounded by the drug lord’s armed security troops, Guzman told Penn of his daring prison escape, in an interview translated by Kate del Castillo, an actress who had famously played a drug trafficker in a Mexican soap opera.

“I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world,” he boasted. “I don’t want to be portrayed as a nun.”

Gomez said authorities were able to track Guzman’s meetings with lawyers and other associates and were close to capturing him in October, apparently after his meeting with Penn. He had been spied by helicopter, she said, but was accompanied by two women and a child, and so security forces decided not to engage.

Gomez also gave new details about Guzman’s summer escape, saying his brother-in-law, two pilots and tunnel engineers were involved. Once he made it through the tunnel, on a motorcycle speeding over specially built rails, he was whisked to an airfield where his airplane and a decoy took off in the night.

In a statement Saturday afternoon, the Mexican government announced the beginning of extradition proceedings that would set the stage for Guzman to face trial in the United States.


The proceedings are in response to two formal extradition requests from the U.S. government for crimes including murder, money laundering and arms possession, according to the statement.

“Guzman ... and his lawyers now have three days to file objections and 20 more days to prove them,” the Mexican government statement said.

If a judge decides to approve the extradition, the request will be sent to Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Relations, which can approve or deny it.

Guzman’s attorney, Juan Pablo Badillo, told the Milenio newspaper that the defense already has filed six motions to challenge extradition requests.

Mexican media reported Saturday that Guzman, upon being captured, exclaimed: “Damn federales! They got us.”

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Sanchez and Bonello are special correspondents. Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson reported from Washington.


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