Ten soldiers and 19 criminal suspects died in a massive operation to arrest a son of jailed drug trafficker Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Mexican government said Friday, with a dramatic shootout damaging three planes and sowing terror at a local airport.
Ovidio Guzman, nicknamed “El Raton” (The Mouse), had allegedly helped to run his father’s operations since the former Sinaloa cartel boss was extradited to the United States in 2017.
The 32-year-old was rounded up Thursday in the northwestern city of Culiacan and flown to Mexico City on a military plane following six months of intelligence work to track him down, the government said.
“Ten members of the military… unfortunately lost their lives in the line of duty,” Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval told reporters, adding 19 “lawbreakers” were also killed in the operation.
A colonel who commanded an infantry battalion was among the fallen. His team came under attack after the arrest was carried out, said the minister.
Another 35 soldiers sustained gunshot wounds and were taken to hospital, while 21 gunmen were arrested.
Sandoval said a passenger plane that was just about to take off from Culiacan airport, as well as two Mexican Air Force aircraft, were hit as members of the Sinaloa Cartel launched a furious offensive to rescue their captured boss.
The air force planes “had to make an emergency landing” after receiving “a significant number of impacts,” said Sandoval.
No injuries resulted from the plane attacks.
The United States had issued a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to Ovidio Guzman’s capture. It accuses him of being a key player in the infamous Sinaloa cartel.
Gunfire and arson shook Culiacan after Thursday’s arrest, which came as Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador prepared to welcome his US counterpart Joe Biden next week for a North America leaders’ summit where security is expected to be high on the agenda.
School classes in the city were suspended.