Nineteen suspected gang members and 10 soldiers were killed in a wave of violence surrounding the arrest of Mexican drug cartel boss Ovidio Guzmán in the northern state of Sinaloa, the defense minister said on Friday. Luis Cresencio Sandoval.
Mexican security forces captured Guzmán, the 32-year-old son of jailed kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in the early hours of Thursday morning, sparking hours of riots and shootouts with gang members, the minister said.
Guzmán was taken by helicopter from the house where he was captured and transferred to Mexico City, before being taken to a maximum-security federal prison, Sandoval added.
The arrest incited the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, once headed by El Chapo himself, to go on a rampage, torching vehicles, blocking roads and fighting security forces in and around Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa.
Another 21 people were arrested during the operations on Thursday, Sandoval said at a news conference, adding that there were no reports of civilian deaths.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said there were no immediate plans to extradite Ovidio to the United States, where his father is in a maximum-security prison after being extradited in 2017 and found guilty in a New York court.
“The elements (of the case) have to be presented and the judges in Mexico decide,” said the president. “It’s a process… It’s not just the application.” No US forces assisted in Ovidio’s capture, López Obrador said.
An enhanced security presence will now be maintained in Sinaloa, on Mexico’s Pacific coast, to protect the public, with an additional 1,000 military personnel traveling to the region today, Sandoval said.
Passengers on an Aeroméxico passenger flight at the Culiacán airport crouched under their seats as gunshots rang out on the runway on Thursday.
“As we were accelerating for takeoff, we heard gunshots very close to the plane, and that’s when we all hit the ground,” said passenger David Tellez. Aeroméxico said one of its planes was hit by gunfire in Culiacán, but no one was hurt.
The airport was due to reopen later on Friday after being closed due to the violence.
In 2019, a botched operation to arrest Ovidio ended in humiliation for the López Obrador government. At that point, security forces briefly detained Ovidio, prompting a violent reaction from cartel loyalists and prompting authorities to quickly release him to avoid the threat of further reprisals from his henchmen.
His latest capture comes ahead of a summit of North American leaders in Mexico City next week, which will be attended by US President Joe Biden. Security cooperation must be on the agenda.