MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexican security forces captured Ovidio Guzmán, a drug trafficker most wanted by the United States and one of the sons of former Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, on Thursday in a pre- Gunfight started in Dawn operation. and roadblocks in the western state capital.

Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval said army and National Guard troops had captured a son of “El Chapo”. Sandoval identified him only as Ovidio, in keeping with government policy.

Ovidio Guzmán, nicknamed “The Mouse”, was not one of El Chapo’s better known sons until an aborted operation to capture him three years earlier. That effort set off similar violence in Culiacan, which ultimately prompted President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to order the military to let go.

Lopez Obrador will host US President Joe Biden for bilateral talks followed by Thursday’s high-profile capture of North American leaders’ summit with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Drug trafficking, along with immigration, is expected to be a top talking point.

“This is a significant blow to the Sinaloa Cartel and a major victory for the rule of law. While it will not disrupt the flow of drugs into the US, the hope is that Mexico will extradite him to the US,” said the former head of the DEA’s international operations. Mike Vigil said Thursday.

Vigil said that Ovidio Guzmán was involved in all of the cartel’s activities, particularly in the production of fentanyl. A 2018 federal indictment in Washington, DC, charged the younger Guzmán with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana in the United States.

Security personnel guard the prosecutor’s building where Ovidio Guzmán, one of the sons of former Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, is being held in Mexico City, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. The Mexican military has captured Ovidio Guzmán during an operation outside Culiacan, a stronghold of the Sinaloa drug cartel in western Mexico. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

The CDC said last July that more than 107,000 Americans were expected to die of drug overdoses during the year ending January 2022, most of them involving opioids including illegally made fentanyl.

López Obrador’s security approach reversed years of what was known as the kingpin strategy of taking down cartel leaders, which led to the fragmentation of large cartels and bloody battles for dominance. López Obrador put all his faith in the military, disbanding the corrupt Federal Police and creating the National Guard under military command.

Sandoval said the capture was the result of six months of reconnaissance and surveillance of the cartel’s territory, and then quick action on Thursday. National Guard troops spotted the SUVs, some with homemade armor, and immediately coordinated with the military as they established a perimeter around the suspected vehicles and forced the occupants to be searched.

Sandoval said that security forces then came under fire, but were able to gain control of the situation and identified the attendees and Guzmán in possession of firearms.

Cartel members set up 19 roadblocks, including outside Culiacan’s airport and local army base, as well as all access points to Culiacan city, Sandoval said, but the air force was unable to fly Guzmán to Mexico City despite their efforts. She was able to, and was taken to the offices of the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Special Prosecutor.

FILE - The frame taken October 17, 2019 from video provided by the Mexican government shows Ovidio Guzman Lopez during his detention in Culiacan, Mexico.  Mexican security forces were forced to release the son of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "el chapo" That day Guzmán's gunmen pillaged the western city of Culiacan.  (CEPROPIE via AP File)
FILE – The frame taken October 17, 2019 from video provided by the Mexican government shows Ovidio Guzman Lopez during his detention in Culiacan, Mexico. Mexican security forces were forced to release the son of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán the day after his gunmen gunned down the western city of Culiacan. (CEPROPIE via AP File)

Sandoval said that Guzmán was the leader of a Sinaloa faction that he called “Los Menores” or “Juniors”, also known as “Los Chapitos”, for El Chapo’s sons.

Other “Little Chapos” include two of his brothers – Iván Archivaldo Guzmán and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán – who are believed to be running cartel operations in conjunction with Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.

Chapitos wielded more control in the cartel because Zambada was in poor health and isolated in the mountains, Vigil said. “The Chapitos know that if El Mayo dies, (the cartel) will fall apart if they don’t have control.”

“It’s going to be very important that the United States requests Ovidio’s extradition as soon as possible and that Mexico does so,” Vigil said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard confirmed that Mexico received a request from the United States in 2019 for the arrest of Guzmán for the purpose of extradition. He said the request would have to be updated and processed, but added that Guzmán would first have to face an open case in Mexico.

US Homeland Security Investigations posted a $5 million reward early last year for information leading to Guzmán’s arrest and/or conviction.

Alleged cartel members responded to Thursday’s operation by carjacking Kaliakan residents and setting vehicles on fire in the cartel stronghold. Local and state officials warned everyone to stay inside.

Intermittent gunfire continued in Culiacan through Thursday afternoon as Mexican security forces continued to clash with cartel gunmen and some people fled.

Police arrive at the scene after a robbery at a store in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.  Mexican security forces captured Ovidio Guzmán, a drug trafficker wanted by the United States and one of the sons of the former Sinaloa Cartel.  boss joaquin
Police arrive at the scene after a robbery at a store in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Mexican security forces captured Ovidio Guzmán, a drug trafficker wanted by the United States and one of the sons of the former Sinaloa Cartel. Boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, in a pre-dawn operation on Thursday that sparked gun battles and roadblocks in the western state capital. (AP Photo/Martin Urista)

The airline Aeromexico said in a statement that one of its jets was hit by a bullet Thursday morning as it prepared to take off. Passenger videos posted online showed people huddling on the floor of the plane. The company said that the passengers and crew are safe.

Later, Mexico’s civil aviation agency said in a statement that an air force plane had also been shot down in Culiacan. In addition to Culiacan airport, Los Mochis and Mazatlán airports have also been ordered closed and all flights canceled for safety reasons, the agency said.

David Téllez was aboard that flight with his wife and children, preparing to return to Mexico City after visiting his in-laws.

His plane waited for an opportunity to take off as two large military aircraft carrying personnel landed, as well as three or four military helicopters. Marines and soldiers stationed along the perimeter of the runway.

When the commercial flight was finally preparing to accelerate, Tellez heard gunfire in the distance. Within 15 seconds the voices suddenly got louder. “We heard gunshots and threw ourselves on the ground,” he said.

They didn’t know the plane had been hit until a flight attendant told them. The plane quickly returned to the terminal and they were herded into a room. He was still at the airport late Thursday afternoon, unsure of when he would be able to return to Mexico City.

Mexican Defense Secretary Luis Crescencio Sandoval announces the arrest of Ovidio during a press conference in Mexico City, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.  Mexican security forces capture Ovidio Guzmán, a drug trafficker wanted by the United States and one of the former's sons.  sinaloa cartel boss joaquin "el chapo" Guzman, in a pre-dawn operation on Thursday that sparked a gun battle and roadblocks in Culiacan.  (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
Mexican Defense Secretary Luis Crescencio Sandoval announces the arrest of Ovidio during a press conference in Mexico City, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Mexican security forces capture Ovidio Guzmán, a drug trafficker wanted by the United States and one of the former’s sons. Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, in a pre-dawn operation on Thursday that sparked a gun battle and roadblocks in Culiacan. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Elsewhere in Culiacan, local reporter Marcos Vizcarra sought refuge in a hotel after gunmen stole his car.

He then explained via Twitter that armed men had entered the hotel where he had sought shelter “and are threatening the guests into giving up their car keys.”

Later, Vizcarra explained that they had taken his phone, but had made it home safely.

Such attempts to create chaos often come in response to arrests of key cartel figures in Mexico. One of the most infamous came when federal security forces surrounded Ovidio Guzmán in October 2019, only to let him escape after gunmen shot up the town with high-powered weapons.

López Obrador said at the time he made the decision to avoid loss of life.

López Obrador entered office highly critical of his predecessors’ toll of the drug war. He adopted the phrase “hugs, not bullets” to describe his approach to Mexico’s chronic violence, which would focus on social programs aimed at weakening the draw of organized crime.

But the death toll has remained high for four of his six-year terms.

In July, Mexico captured Rafael Caro Quintero, one of the godfathers of drug trafficking and the man allegedly responsible for killing a DEA agent more than three decades ago, days after López Obrador met with Biden at the White House. .

At the time, the occupation was seen as a sign that Mexico might be ready to go after high-profile cartel bosses again, something López Obrador was loath to do.

Associated Press writer Fabiola Sanchez contributed to this report.



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