MEXICO CITY – Mexico's government on Wednesday announced the capture of six people believed responsible for the July prison break by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, including the elusive drug lord's brother-in-law and the suspected mastermind of the escape.
Attorney General Arely Gomez said the alleged mastermind is a member of Guzman's legal team who had access to the Altiplano prison near Mexico City, and was able to notify the capo of the operation's progress and receive instructions. The person also purportedly relayed orders and payments to others involved in the escape.
Other suspects arrested included Guzman's brother-in-law, believed to have supervised construction of the mile-long escape tunnel and organized transportation; a person who negotiated the purchase of the plot of land where the tunnel emerged; and an airplane pilot.
"Today we are able to affirm that the group responsible for planning, organizing and carrying out the escape from outside the prison) has been broken up," Gomez said.
She confirmed that after the escape, the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel boss traveled by land to the city of Queretaro where officials say he caught a small plane to a mountainous region of Sinaloa, his home state and stronghold.
The attorney general added that two Cessna aircraft left from Queretaro. She did not give details or take questions, but a federal official who was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity said one of the flights was apparently a ruse to throw any pursuers off the scent. Authorities recently detained a second pilot in the case.
Gomez did not name any of the suspects but said they planned, organized and carried out the jailbreak in cahoots with officials inside the maximum-security lockup.
About 23 prison officials and employees have also been arrested; some face criminal charges.
Security agents have focused their manhunt in recent weeks on Sinaloa and neighboring Durango state, part of Mexico's notorious drug-producing Golden Triangle region. Officials say Guzman was injured in the leg and face there while evading a dragnet in rugged terrain.
"El Chapo's" July 11 escape through a tunnel dug to the shower in his cell was his second brazen flight from prison. In 2001, he slipped out of another maximum-security facility, purportedly hidden in a laundry cart.
The latest jailbreak made him once again Mexico's most-wanted fugitive and was a huge black eye for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which had dismissed the possibility that Guzman could escape a second time.
Washington had called for Guzman's extradition to face charges in U.S. federal courts, fearing that Mexico might have trouble keeping him behind bars. But Mexican officials said he would only be extradited after first serving out long prison sentences for crimes committed in his home country.