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Mexico: Top Drug Lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman Escapes From Prison

Eduardo Verdugo

by
The Associated Press

Top Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, has escaped from a maximum security prison for the second time, Mexican officials said as they launched a manhunt.

Guzman was last seen about 9 p.m. Saturday in the shower area of the Altiplano prison, 90 kilometers (56 miles) outside of Mexico City, according to a statement from the National Security Commission. He went to the shower area but after some time was lost by security camera surveillance. Upon checking his cell, authorities found it was empty.

A search operation began immediately in the surrounding area and highways. Flights were also suspended at Toluca airport, near the penitentiary in the state of Mexico.

Guzman was captured in February 2014 after more than a decade on the run. He was listed as 56 years old at the time, though there are varying dates for his birth. He faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U.S. and was on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's most-wanted list.

During his time as a fugitive, Guzman transformed himself from a middling Mexican capo into arguably the most powerful drug trafficker in the world. His fortune grew to be estimated at more than $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, which listed him among the "World's Most Powerful People" and ranked him above the presidents of France and Venezuela.

His Sinaloa Cartel empire still stretches throughout North America and reaches as far away as Europe and Australia. The cartel has been heavily involved in the bloody drug war that has torn through parts of Mexico for the last decade, taking at least an estimated 100,000 lives.

Sinaloa is believed now to control most of the major crossing points for drugs at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Guzman was caught by authorities for the first time in Guatemala in 1993, extradited and sentenced to 20 years in prison in Mexico for murder and drug trafficking. He escaped from another maximum security prison, Puente Grande in western Jalisco state, in 2001 with the help of prison guards. The lore said he escaped in laundry cart, though there were several versions of how he got away.

Guzman was known for his ability to pay off local residents and even authorities who would tip him off to security operations launched for his capture. He finally was tracked down to a modest beachside high-rise in the Pacific Coast resort city of Mazatlan on Feb. 22, 2014, where he had been hiding with his wife and twin daughters. He was taken in the early morning without a shot fired.

But before they reached him, security forces went on a several-day chase through Culiacan, the capital of his home Sinaloa state, for which the cartel is named. They found houses where Guzman supposedly had been staying with steel-enforced doors and elaborate tunnels that allowed him to escape through the sewer system.

Earlier this year, former Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam told The Associated Press that sending Guzman to the United States, where he is wanted, would save Mexico a lot of money, but keeping him in Mexico was a question of national sovereignty.

He dismissed concerns that Guzman could escape a second time. That risk "does not exist," Murillo Karam said. He has since been replaced by Arely Gomez as attorney general.

Mexican officials had no immediate comment, but have scheduled a press conference for 7 a.m. local time.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. To see more, visit http://www.ap.org/.