World

A trail of tortillas, 18 lost minutes and a tunnel: Tantalizing details of Chapo Guzmán's escape

In this July 16, 2015, photo, a Federal Police shows a reward notice for information leading to the capture of drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who made his escape from the Altiplano maximum security prison via an underground tunnel,  in Almoloya, west of Mexico City. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s deputy administrator says he is confident one of the world’s most-wanted drug traffickers will be captured again after a brazen weekend escape from a maximum-security Mexican prison.  (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

In this July 16, 2015, photo, a Federal Police shows a reward notice for information leading to the capture of drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who made his escape from the Altiplano maximum security prison via an underground tunnel, in Almoloya, west of Mexico City. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s deputy administrator says he is confident one of the world’s most-wanted drug traffickers will be captured again after a brazen weekend escape from a maximum-security Mexican prison. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

At least 18 minutes passed before anyone was alerted to the escape of drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, two Mexican lawmakers said Thursday.

Deputy Aleida Alavez of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party told the Associated Press that National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido reported during a tour of the maximum security prison Wednesday that Guzmán had an 18-minute head start. She said Rubido hesitated when asked how much time elapsed, but eventually answered.

Officials had not said publicly how much time passed from when Mexico's most prized prisoner slipped into a mile-long tunnel Saturday night and when authorities became aware he was gone.

The National Security Commission did not immediately respond to questions about the time.

Deputy Adriana González of the conservative National Action Party, who was also on the tour, said she did not hear Rubido give that time, but added that she asked by personnel monitoring the cameras and was told about 20 minutes.

González said she was also told there was not a single person exclusively dedicated to monitoring Guzmán. One person monitored two screens that each show images from 20 cameras. She was shown about five minutes of additional video footage after Guzmán disappeared in his cell — more than has been released publicly — and all that was visible was an empty cell.

"The image stayed the same and time is passing and minute 56, 57 and no one appears," she said.

The video released to the public Tuesday showed Guzmán disappearing at 8:50 p.m. behind a half wall that blocked the camera's view of his shower.

The Attorney General's Office is investigating the escape itself as well as looking at whether prison personnel followed protocols or intentionally caused the delay in issuing an alert.

It was the second time Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa cartel, escaped from a maximum security prison. The first was in 2001, when in one of several versions, Guzmán was allegedly smuggled out in a laundry cart.

Documents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration obtained earlier this week by the Associated Press showed that U.S. agents had collected intelligence suggesting planning to spring Guzmán began almost immediately after his arrest in February 2014.

Discussing her tour of the prison, Alavez said investigators had found pieces of tortilla in the grating covering a light above Guzmán's sink. Lawmakers were told the pieces were used to count days, but Alavez said it was not clear if it was the days Guzmán had been imprisoned or the number he had left before his escape.

An official with the Attorney General's Office said one hypothesis was that Guzmán used the grating and tortilla pieces as a kind of calendar, but said another was that it was a game he created for himself. The official agreed to discuss the matter only if not quoted by name because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Alavez also said she was awaiting an explanation of why Guzmán had been allowed to grow out his hair when it was clear from their tour that other prisoners had shaved heads.

For complete coverage on Joaquín Guzmán go to The Hunt for El Chapo.

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