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Latin America

Two Mexican marines gunned down as they hunt for ‘El Chapo’

Authorities intensify search for Sinaloa cartel leader who escaped from prison last summer

A soldier guards the entrance of a military base outside Cosalá, Sinaloa, Mexico. AFP

Two Mexican marines were gunned down on Monday night as their convoy patrolled the streets of Angostura, a coastal town in Mexico’s Culiacán state, in search of drug lord Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán who has been on the run ever since his prison escape last summer.

It was the second attack in less than a week on a special marine operations convoy, which is helping in the search for the notorious leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

The hitman, who was identified as José María Peñuelas Rubio, was also killed in the attack, according to the Secretary of the Marines (Semar). Peñuelas Rubio had a prior criminal record for destruction and falsification of documents, Sinaloa prosecutors said.

It was the second attack in less than a week on a special convoy helping in the search for the notorious Sinaloa cartel leader

On Christmas Day, a marine convoy was attacked in Badiraguato, Guzmán’s hometown in Sinaloa. The marines called for reinforcements but the attackers also shot at the military’s approaching helicopters.

Two of the assailants were killed in the gun battle and authorities confiscated automatic rifles, grenades and munitions the gunmen had in their possessions and that are exclusively army-issued weapons.

The marines also destroyed four tons of marijuana that were found.

Mexican security forces are concentrating their search for Guzmán in an area known as the Golden Triangle – the mountainous region that saddles the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango.

Guzmán made a daring escape from a maximum security prison on July 11 through a 1.5 meter tunnel that was dug under his cell. Authorities arrested dozens of penitentiary officials for allegedly aiding his escape.

The area in the Sierra Madre mountain range where the 61-year-old Guzmán was born has some of the biggest poppy and marijuana fields in the country.

It is also a region where many of the Sinaloa cartel members are thought to be hiding out, including Rafael Caro Quintero – one of the most wanted fugitives in the United States in connection with the 1985 murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena – and Ismael El Mayo Zambada, Guzmán’s right-hand man.

Both the governor of Sinaloa state and the mayor of Badiraguato have acknowledged in recent months that the military is conducting house-to-house searches in the area with the hope of finding Guzmán.

But the hunt for the most powerful drug lord in the world has forced hundreds of people in the area to flee their homes.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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