El Chapo’s cartel launches military-style assault on Mexican forces, securing his son’s release from custody

Mexican officials briefly detained Ovidio Guzman, but as the cartel freed prisoners from a local jail and turned Culiacán into a war zone, they let him go

Cartel gunmen are seen near a burning truck during clashes with federal forces following the detention of Ovidio Guzman, son of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, Mexico October 17, 2019.REUTERS/Jesus Bustamante

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT BELOW

The Mexican city of Culiacán descended into terror on Thursday, when soldiers and police launched a raid to capture one of the heirs to the throne of jailed Mexican kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. As state forces advanced into the city, the Sinaloa Cartel hit back with an array of military-style weapons — and won.

Mexican officials briefly detained Ovidio Guzman, one of Guzman’s sons who has emerged as a leading figure in the cartel after his father was arrested in 2016. But in response the cartel freed dozens of prisoners from a local jail, set numerous vehicles alight and turned Culiacán into a war zone. Soon, Mexican authorities released Guzman.

Security Minister Alfonso Durazo told Reuters Guzman was released to protect lives. Reports, which the government later denied, indicated the cartel took government soldiers hostage as a bargaining chip to secure his freedom. At least eight people were reported killed, including five suspected gang members, in the city of nearly 1 million people.

Freeing one of Mexico’s most wanted drug traffickers — one who is indicted by the U.S. Justice Department — was a humiliation for Mexico’s government, and revealed the full of extent of the Sinaloa Cartel’s power. To add to this humiliation, the government was forced to back track after its initial tale of how the mayhem unfolded was widely ridiculed.

In a video statement Thursday, Mexican security officials initially described a scene in which agents, on a routine patrol, came under attack by armed men from a house in Culiacán. State forces had been unexpectedly overwhelmed, it was suggested.

A truck burns in a street of Culiacan, state of Sinaloa, Mexico, on October 17, 2019. STR/AFP via Getty Images
Soldiers patrol the surroundings of the government palace in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, Mexico, on October 18, 2019. ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images

“The personnel fired back and took control of the house, in which they found four occupants. During that action, one of them was identified as Ovidio Guzmán López,” Durazo said.

“This resulted in various groups of organized crime groups who surrounded the house with a greater firepower than that of the patrol. In addition, other groups carried out violent actions against residents in various parts of the city, creating panic.”

Cartel gunmen are seen on a street during clashes with federal forces following the detention of Ovidio Guzman, son of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, in Culiacan, in Sinaloa state, Mexico October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jesus Bustama