Armed men burned vehicles and stormed an airport in northern Mexico on Thursday in an apparent effort to prevent the capture of Ovidio Guzmán, one of the world’s most-wanted cartel leaders and the son of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Authorities have not publicly confirmed Guzmán’s arrest, but multiple local news outlets and the international news agency Reuters reported that the drug boss had been arrested by federal forces early Thursday in the city of Culiacan, a stronghold of Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel.
Officials canceled flights, suspended school and ordered residents to shelter in place as videos circulated on social media showing streets blockaded by burning vehicles and gunfire erupting on the tarmac of the Culiacan airport.
It was eerily similar to a bloody cartel siege on Culiacan in 2019, the last time federal forces sought to capture 32-year-old Ovidio Guzmán.
In 2019, federal forces raided a luxurious Culiacan home and subdued Ovidio Guzmán, who has helped lead the Sinaloa cartel since his father was sentenced to life in prison in the United States.
But as Mexican national guard members were attempting to take him into custody, hundreds of Sinaloa fighters seized control of the city, taking hostages, blocking intersections with burning vehicles and laying siege to a housing complex for the families of military personnel. Eight people were killed. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador eventually ordered Guzmán’s release to avoid more bloodshed.
Many Mexicans and U.S. law enforcement personnel were furious about the bungled operation, which they said humiliated federal forces and sent a dangerous message to criminal groups.
The apparent recapture of Guzmán comes days before a scheduled visit to Mexico by President Joe Biden. Some in Mexico speculated that it was timed to please the Americans, who have grumbled about the Mexican president’s crime-fighting strategy and in particular his effort to shield a former defense minister charged by U.S. officials with collaborating with organized crime.
Former President Vicente Fox, a major critic of López Obrador, speculated in a tweet that “Ovidio will be the gift for Biden.”
George Israel, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said López Obrador was “cleaning the house before Biden arrives, gift in hand with bow and all.”
It was unclear where Guzmán was being held. Some local outlets reported that he had been transported to Mexico City. Authorities said a statement about the operation was forthcoming.
Cecilia Sánchez in the Los Angeles Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.