Inside The Hunt For The World’s Most Wanted Drug Lord
(CNN) — A no-frills beachside condo tower isn’t where you’d expect to find the world’s most wanted drug lord.
But that, authorities said, was where they captured Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman over the weekend.
The early morning operation in the Mexican Pacific resort town of Mazatlan over the weekend marked a dramatic twist in a case that has long captivated the country and frustrated investigators on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Authorities had been closing in on the notorious Sinaloa cartel leader for months before Mexican marines swooped in Saturday, Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam told reporters.
US seeks to extradite Mexican drug lord
Notorious Mexican drug lord arrested
Earlier police operations yielded a trove of intelligence, including cell phone and other data, a U.S. law enforcement official said. That helped Mexican authorities and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents hunting Guzman gain confidence in recent weeks that they could arrest him.
A key discovery earlier this month marked a turning point in the investigation: seven houses in the Mexican city of Culiacan, connected by secret tunnels that also tied in with the city’s sewage system.
Investigators almost caught him then, Murillo said, but reinforced steel doors made it too tough for them to enter the compound quickly.
“It made it so that in the minutes we took to open them, he escaped in the tunnels,” Murillo said. “But the investigation was so thorough that we continued.”
Before Guzman’s capture, Mexican federal forces made several significant arrests of Sinaloa cartel associates, including two people authorities said were suspected of providing security for top leaders of the cartel.
Hunt marked by rumors, close calls
Ever since his legendary escape in a laundry cart from Mexico’s Puente Grande prison in 2001, the hunt for Guzman has grabbed headlines.
During the drug lord’s nearly 13 years on the lam, rumors swirled about his whereabouts.
From time to time, investigators suggested they were hot on his trail. But even as Mexico stepped up its pressure on cartels, he remained an elusive target. Many in the country suggested that his whereabouts were an open secret — and that the government must have been deliberately steering clear of capturing him.
In 2009, the archbishop of Mexico’s Durango state told reporters that Guzman lived near the mountain town of Guanacevi.
“Everyone knows it, except the authorities,” he said.
Days later, investigators found the bodies of two slain army lieutenants in Durango’s mountains, accompanied by a note: “Neither the government nor priests can handle El Chapo.”
A year later, when asked by reporters again about El Guzman’s whereabouts, the archbishop said, “He is omnipresent. … He is everywhere.”
In 2012, a Mexican official told the Associated Press that authorities nearly caught Guzman in a raid on a beach mansion in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, barely a day after Hillary Clinton was meeting with other foreign ministers from across the hemisphere in the same resort town.
Last year, Guatemalan authorities said a man who resembled El Chapo died in Peten, Guatemala, during a shootout. Later, they changed their story and said El Chapo wasn’t killed and the shootout may never even have happened.
Family still in spotlight
While Guzman managed to avoid authorities’ attention, the wrath of his rivals and the media’s glare, other members of his family weren’t so lucky.
Authorities arrested Guzman’s brother, known as “El Pollo” (The Chicken), in Mexico City in September 2001. Three years later, he was shot to death by a fellow inmate in a maximum-security prison.
Legend has it that “El Chapo” Guzman was also once arrested in Mexico’s capital, according to an account in Malcolm Beith’s book “The Last Narco: Inside the Hunt for El Chapo, the World’s Most Wanted Drug Lord.”
“At the police station, he lifted up a suitcase and put it on the desk of the capital’s chief of police,” Beith writes. “Inside was $50,000 in cash; within minutes, Chapo was out the door.”
Members of a rival cartel gunned down Edgar Beltran Guzman, one of El Chapo’s sons, in a Mexican shopping mall parking lot in 2008. Police found more than 500 bullet casings at the scene.
Last year, authorities arrested Guzman’s father-in-law in Sonora, Mexico, charging him with drug-related crimes.
But not all of the focus on Guzman’s family has been tied to organized crime.
In September 2011, word eked out that Guzman’s beauty-queen wife, Emma Coronel — a citizen of both the United States and Mexico –had given birth to twin girls at a hospital in Lancaster, California.
About a year later, authorities arrested Alejandrina Gisselle Guzman Salazar, one of El Chapo’s daughters, at a border crossing in San Ysidro, California. She was deported back to Mexico several months later.
Her attorneys said she was pregnant and had been coming to the United States to have a baby.
CNN’s Evan Perez, Nick Parker, Ray Sanchez, Mike Martinez and CNNMexico.comcontributed to this report.