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Latin America

Mexican navy focuses search for “El Chapo” on Sinaloa mountains

Fugitive drug lord is thought to have fled to the range after his daring escape

La Tuna, el pueblo del Chapo Guzmán, entre dos lomas de la sierra
La Tuna, the town in the Sinaloa mountains where “El Chapo” was born.

Working with US intelligence, the Mexican navy has focused its search for escaped drug trafficker Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán on the mountains where the legendary Sinaloa cartel leader made his fortune, according to the latest reports.

Investigators believe that Guzmán, who fled from a high-security prison via a 1.5-kilometer tunnel in July, is hiding out with the help of his associates somewhere in the rugged mountains that straddle Sinaloa and Durango states in the northwestern part of the country.

Investigators believe that the night El Chapo escaped, he boarded a private plane that landed in Sinaloa

“We know that there is an operation being carried out by a special-forces unit, which has come directly from Mexico City,” said Sinaloa Governor Mario López Valdez during a news conference on Wednesday. “And you know who they are after.”

The navy and its elite squad are centering their search on 13 towns, where around 250 residents have already been evacuated from their homes, local authorities said.

The rapid strikes carried out by the military have been a cause for protest among area residents. When EL PAÍS visited Badiraguato, the municipality in which Guzmán was born, in July locals complained about the constant helicopters flying over and armored vehicles circulating at all hours of the day.

But El Chapo is not the only fugitive that Mexican authorities are tracking. Rafael Caro Quintero, who was set free by Mexican authorities in 2013 and is also thought to be hiding out in the area, is wanted by the US Justice Department for the killing of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in 1985.

Also on the radar screen is Ismael El Mayo Zambada, a close friend of the Guzmán family, who has never been captured and since the 1990s has been thought to be one of the biggest traffickers operating out of Sinaloa.

Investigators believe that the night El Chapo escaped from the Altiplano maximum security prison, he was taken by his men to Querétaro state where he boarded a private plane that ultimately landed in Sinaloa, around 1,000 kilometers to the north.

Intelligence sources have placed him somewhere between the Pacific resort of Mazatlán – where he was captured by the navy in February 2014 – and the rural town of Los Mochis.

Spread over three states – Durango, Sinaloa and Chihuahua – the area in which they are searching is known as the Golden Triangle because of the ideal conditions it offers for growing marijuana and poppy crops.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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