One of the sons of the infamous drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was arrested — but subsequently released — by security forces after his detainment sparked intense fighting in northern Mexico Thursday night.
More than 30 militarized police and National Guard members were patrolling the northern city of Culiacan – the capital of Mexico’s Sinaloa state – when they were fired upon from a house, officials said.
The officers repelled the attack and inside found Guzman’s son, Ovidio Guzman Lopez – who is wanted by U.S. authorities on drug trafficking charges – and three other men, Reuters reported.
Guzman was detained, but soon afterward, his heavily armed supporters surrounded the house, sparking an hours-long gun battle between police and cartel members.
Videos published on social media showed a scene resembling a war zone, with gunmen, some wearing black ski masks over their faces, firing mounted machine guns as vehicles burned around them.
Residents can be seen running for cover as machine-gun fire echoed through the streets.
Families with young children abandoned their vehicles and lay flat on the road. Bullets cracked up ahead. “Dad, can we get up now?” a small boy said to his father in a video posted on Twitter.
“Papá, ¿ya nos podemos parar?”
Una imagen de rompe el corazón. pic.twitter.com/oXShdGdcY0
— Julio Saucedo (@JULIO_SAUCEDO) October 17, 2019
“No, stay there on the floor,” the man replied, his voice trembling.
The government said the security forces were quickly outmatched by cartel gunmen and withdrew – without Guzman – to prevent bloodshed.
“With the goal of safeguarding the well-being and tranquility of Culiacan society, officials in the security cabinet decided to suspend the actions,” Mexican security secretary Alfonso Durazo told reporters.
Jose Luis Gonzalez Meza, a lawyer for “El Chapo’s” family, told the AP that the family said “Ovidio is alive and free,” but that he had no more details about what had happened.
Ovidio Guzman was not one of the jailed Mexican kingpin’s best-known sons – Ivan Archivaldo Guzman and Jesus Alfredo Guzman are known as “Los Chapitos,” or “the little Chapos” and are believed to currently run their father’s Sinaloa Cartel together with Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
However, Ovidio Guzman was indicted in 2018 by a grand jury in Washington, along with a fourth brother, for alleged trafficking of cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana.
Cristobal Castañeda, head of security in Sinaloa, told Milenio television that there were people wounded but did not provide a casualty figure.
He said gunman blocked streets with burning vehicles, a common tactic to make it difficult for security forces to maneuver. Simultaneously, some 20 to 30 prisoners escaped though some were quickly recovered, Castañeda added.
Falko Ernst, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Mexico, told Reuters Guzman’s release creates a “dangerous precedent” and shows the military is not in control.
Sinaloa is home to the cartel by the same name, which was led by “El Chapo” Guzmán. The drug kingpin was sentenced to life in prison in the United States in July.
After Guzmán’s third arrest in 2016, an internal battle for succession began playing out. The battle was resolved with the arrest of Damaso López Nunez and his son Dámaso López Serrano, who led a rival faction.