Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman — one of the world’s most notorious crime figures — escaped a maximum security prison on Saturday via a 1,600 yard tunnel dug under his shower cell, Mexico’s top security official said.
The brazen jailbreak is the second time Guzman, the powerful head of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, has escaped a maximum security prison.
Guzman was last seen using the shower area at the Altiplano prison around 9 p.m. Saturday, the National Security Commission said in a statement. An alert was triggered when prison guards found his cell empty.
The tunnel was so elaborate that it had ventilation and stairs, Mexico’s Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said. A motorcycle that was used to remove dirt was also found, he said.
Flights were suspended at the nearby Toluca airport, while a manhunt stretched into surrounding states, the commission said.
Rubido said 18 employees from various part of the Altiplano prison, located about 56 miles west of Mexico City, had been taken in for questioning.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that the feds were ready to work with Mexican authorities in tracking the kingpin.
“We share the government of Mexico’s concern regarding the escape of Joaquin Guzman Loera “Chapo” from a Mexican prison,” said Lynch. “In addition to his crimes in Mexico, he faces multiple drug trafficking and organized crime charges in the United States.”
One of history’s most prolific drug lords, the 60-year-old spent 13 years on the run after escaping a Mexican prison in a laundry cart in 2001. He was serving 20 years related to drug trafficking charges after being extradited from Guatemala in 1993, where he had fled from Mexico.
Before his recapture in February 2014, he was wanted in six different U.S. courts for smuggling billions of dollars of cocaine, meth, heroin, and marijuana across the border.
Court documents released last year in Chicago, where he was known as public enemy No. 1, described an elaborate trafficking network that relied on trains and submarines. The cartel is also renowned for its use of tunnels to smuggle drugs under the border.
Guzman, who was known for his brutality and for lining the pockets of officials, had a $5 million bounty on his head when he was arrested in February last year.
And after years of frustrating authorities the elusive Mexican nearly escaped capture altogether. As Mexican Marines readied to raid his ex-wife’s house in Culiacan, Guzman vanished into a sewer system via a trap door beneath a bathtub.
His freedom — this time at least — was not to last much longer: he was arrested days later in Mazatlan, about 135 miles to the south, after authorities tracked a cell phone signal.
His capture was seen as a major victory in Mexico’s war against drugs. The Sinaloa Cartel, which has been heavily involved in the bloody drug war that has torn through parts of Mexico, has an empire that stretches throughout North America and reaches as far away as Europe and Australia.
The cartel is believed now to control most of the major crossing points for drugs at the U.S. border with Mexico.
– NBC News