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Using Another Secret Tunnel, Drug Kingpin 'El Chapo' Almost Evaded Capture

Bullet holes riddle the walls of the second floor of the home that marines raided in their search for the Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán.
Eduardo Verdugo

How close was notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán from pulling off another escape, right under the noses of Mexican authorities?

According to a Tuesday interview with one of the marines involved in the raid that resulted in the kingpin's recapture four days ago, Guzmán nearly slipped away again. In the interview with Mexican channel Televisa, the marine described how they swarmed Guzmán's safe house in Los Mochis, Mexico, in an operation dubbed "Black Swan." He details how the world's most-wanted drug kingpin almost wriggled out of reach yet again using a secret tunnel.

The operation began early Friday. Televisa reported that law enforcement had been about 80 percent confident Guzmán was inside the house in the coastal city.

Here's a synopsis of how the marine described the raid:

The elite group of 17 marines stormed the property, using a battering ram to break down the door. They immediately came under fire, and the marine said one of them was hit. The wounded marine waited outside as other marines continued inside with weapons drawn. After they secured the ground floor, the marines went upstairs.

As they climbed the stairs, one marine saw a man standing at the top, preparing to fire a rocket-propelled grenade. The marine hit and disabled the weapon, and the marines continued to advance. Watch video of part of the raid here:

While the gun battle between the marines and Guzmán's men flared and subsided — the marine said the cartel members were also armed with .50-caliber sniper rifles — Guzmán and his security chief, Ivan "El Cholo" Gastelum, disappeared. In 15 minutes, the marines had secured the house and taken stock of the casualties: Five of Guzmán's men were dead, four people were detained (including two women), and one marine was injured.

Guzmán was nowhere to be found.

"We carried out a systematic review of the place, completely reviewing furniture, spaces, holes, checking each and every one of the places," the marine said in Spanish.

It took 90 minutes for authorities to discover the entrance to the secret tunnel, hidden behind a mirror in a closet — a delay which gave Guzmán and Gastelum a valuable head start. The marines crossed the threshold and found themselves in a tunnel, about 6 feet tall, with a cement floor, wooden walls and lighting. They followed the tunnel, which led into the sewer, for 500 meters and then, realizing the passage continued on for much longer, decided to exit.

A storm sewer system under the home where marines searched for El Chapo in Los Mochis, Mexico.
Eduardo Verdugo / AP
A storm sewer system under the home where marines searched for El Chapo in Los Mochis, Mexico.

According to Televisa's report, Guzmán and Gastelum had been in the passage for hours when it began to rain. Fear of drowning reportedly forced them to surface, where they were seen on security camera footage climbing out of a manhole in an intersection in broad daylight. The armed men then stole a car, ran out of gas, stole another and made it to the highway outside town before finally being apprehended.

Televisa reported that the head of the marine unit said he told Guzmán: "Your six-month vacation is over."

The officer said Guzmán replied: "Yes, my holiday is over."

El Chapo is now back in the same maximum security prison from which he escaped six months ago using a mile-long tunnel.

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