Buses and cars blocked roads as armed drug cartel fighters surrounded security forces. (Reuters: Jesus Bustamante)
An intense gunfight with heavy weapons and burning vehicles blocking roads paralysed the capital of Mexico’s Sinaloa state and forced police to release the recently arrested son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
- The arrest of El Chapo’s son triggered gun fights in Mexico
- The drug lord El Chapo escaped prison twice before being extradited to the US
- His son, Ovidio Guzman, was quickly released to prevent further violence despite being wanted on drug trafficking charges
Heavily armed drug cartel fighters surrounded security forces and made them free Ovidio Guzman, who is wanted in the United States on drug trafficking charges.
His brief detention triggered intense gun battles across the Mexican city of Culiacan before Mexico’s Security Minister, Alfonso Durazo, decided to free Guzman — a decision that he said was made to protect lives.
He said a patrol by National Guard militarised police first came under attack from within a house in the city, 600 kilometres north-west of Mexico City.
After entering the house, they found four men, including Ovidio Guzman.
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel captured in the beach resort town of Mazatlan in February 2014. (AP: Eduardo Verdugo)
Mr Durazo said the patrol was quickly overpowered by cartel gunmen and the decision was taken to withdraw to protect the lives of the National Guard and restore calm in the city, where gangsters had set up roadblocks and were unleashing heavy automatic gunfire.
“The decision was taken to retreat from the house without Guzman, to try to avoid more violence in the area and preserve the lives of our personnel and recover calm in the city,” he said.
Videos published on social media showed a scene resembling a war zone, with gunmen — some wearing black ski masks over their faces — riding in the back of trucks and firing mounted machine guns as vehicles burned.
National Guard militarised police came under attack after apprehending Ovidio Guzman. (AFP: Rashide Frias )
People could be seen running for cover as automatic gun fire rattled around them.
Drivers drove in reverse frantically to get away from the clashes.
The chaotic scenes in Culiacan, long a stronghold for the Guzmans’ Sinaloa cartel, will increase pressure on President Lopez Obrador, who took office in December promising to pacify a country weary after more than a decade of drug-war fighting.
Murders this year are set to be at a record high.
Some civilians had to drive their cars backwards to avoid clashes, leaving their cars bullet-ridden. (AFP: Rashide Frias )
The scenes in the state of Sinaloa follow the massacre of more than a dozen police in western Mexico earlier this week, and the killing of 14 suspected gangsters by the army a day later.
El Chapo led the Sinaloa cartel for decades, escaping from prison twice before being arrested and extradited to the US.
He was found guilty in a US court in February of smuggling tons of drugs and was sentenced to life in prison.
He is believed to have about 12 children including Ovidio.
The US Department of Justice unveiled an indictment against Ovidio and another of the brothers in February, charging them with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana in the US.
The indictment gave Ovidio’s age as 28 and said he had been involved in trafficking conspiracies since he was a teenager.