Armed men took hostages, burned vehicles and stormed an airport in northern Mexico on Thursday after federal forces captured Ovidio Guzmán, one of the world’s most wanted cartel leaders and the son of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
The drug boss was arrested early Thursday in the city of Culiacan, a stronghold of Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel, and was later flown to Mexico City, according to Mexican Secretary of Defense Luis Crescencio Sandoval González.
Officials canceled flights, suspended school and ordered residents to shelter in place as videos circulated on social media showing roads blockaded by burning vehicles and gunfire erupting on the tarmac of the Culiacan airport. One local journalist, Marcos Vizcarra, said he had been effectively taken hostage along with other civilians in a hotel, their cars confiscated by armed gunmen to be incinerated in the streets.
The dramatic cartel response was eerily similar to a bloody 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 compound 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 recapture of Guzmán comes days before a scheduled visit to Mexico by President 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.