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Mexican drug lord 'El Chapo' arrested

For 13 years Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman watched from western Mexico's rugged mountains as authorities captured or killed the leaders of every group challenging his Sinaloa cartel's spot at the top of global drug trafficking.

Unscathed and his legend growing, the stocky son of a peasant farmer grabbed a slot on the Forbes' billionaires' list and a folkloric status as the capo who grew too powerful to catch. Then, late last year, authorities started closing on the inner circle of the world's most-wanted drug lord.

The son of one of his two top henchmen, Ismael "Mayo" Zambada, was arrested at a border crossing in Nogales, Arizona in November as part of a sprawling, complex investigation involving as many as 100 wiretaps, according to his lawyer.

A month later, one of the Sinaloa cartel's main lieutenants was gunned down by Mexican helicopter gunships in a resort town a few hours drive to the east. Less than two weeks later, police at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam arrested one of the cartel's top assassins, a man who handled transport and logistics for Guzman.

This month the noose started tightening. Federal forces began sweeping through Culiacan, capital of the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa — closing streets, raiding houses, seizing automatic weapons, drugs and money, and arresting a series of men Mexican officials carefully described to reporters as top officials for Zambada.

But the target was bigger.

By the middle of the week at least 10 Sinaloa henchmen had been seized.

A U.S. law enforcement official said Saturday that at least some were actually security for Guzman, and authorities used them to obtain information that helped lead to the head of the cartel. The official was not authorized to talk to journalists and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Agents learned that Guzman, 56, had started coming down from his isolated mountain hideouts to enjoy the comforts of Culiacan and Mazatlan, said Michael S. Vigil, a former senior DEA official who was briefed on the operation.

Working on the information gleaned from Guzman's bodyguards, Mexican marines swarmed the house of Guzman's ex-wife but struggled to batter down the steel-reinforced door, according to Mexican authorities and former U.S. law-enforcement officials briefed on the operation.

As the marines forced their way in, Guzman fled through a secret door beneath a bathtub down a corrugated steel ladder into a network of tunnels and sewer canals that connect to six other houses in Culiacan, the officials said.

Guzman fled south to Mazatlan. On his heels, a team of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents set up a base of operations with Mexican marines in the city, according to the current U.S. law-enforcement official.

Early Saturday morning, Guzman's reign came to an end without a shot fired. Marines closed the beachside road in front of the Miramar condominiums, a 10-story, pearl-colored building with white balconies overlooking the Pacific and a small pool in front.

Smashing down the door of an austerely decorated fourth-floor condo, they seized the country's most-wanted man at 6:40 a.m., a few minutes after the sun rose.

The man who eluded Mexican authorities for more than a decade looked pudgy, bowed and middle-aged in a white button-down shirt and beltless black jeans.

After his 2001 escape in a laundry truck from a prison he came to control through bribery, Guzman was rumoured to live everywhere from Argentina to Mexico's "Golden Triangle," a mountainous, marijuana-growing region straddling the northern states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua.

The Sinaloa Cartel grew deadlier and more powerful, taking over much of the lucrative trafficking routes along the U.S. border.

In 2013, he was named "Public Enemy No. 1" by the Chicago Crime Commission, only the second person to get that distinction after U.S. prohibition-era crime boss Al Capone.

He appeared in only a handful of photos during his years on the run, staring straight into the camera of an anonymous photographer and defiantly brandishing an automatic rifle.

On Saturday, as he was walked before the press, his hands were cuffed behind him and a masked marine pushed down his head with a black-gloved hand, as if to make clear that Guzman is now under state control.

Guzman said nothing, and looked subdued as he reappeared before the world for a few seconds before disappearing into the cargo bay of a helicopter waiting to take him to prison.

The Canadian Press

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