CULIACAN, MEXICO - An intense gunfight with heavy weapons and burning vehicles blocking roads raged in the capital of Mexico's Sinaloa state Thursday after security forces located one of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's sons who is wanted in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges.
Mexican security secretary Alfonso Durazo said 30 members of the National Guard and army were patrolling in Culiacan when they were fired on from a house. They repelled the attack and inside the house apprehended Ovidio Guzman Lopez.
The house was then surrounded by heavily armed gunmen who had "a greater force" and authorities decided to suspend the operation, Durazo said. Security forces released Ovidio Guzman to protect lives, Durazo said, Reuters reported.
Indicted in Washington
Ovidio was not one of the jailed Mexican drug lord's best-known sons - Ivan Archivaldo Guzman and Jesus Alfredo Guzman are known as "los Chapitos," or "the little Chapos," and are believed to run their father's Sinaloa Cartel together with Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada.
But Ovidio Guzman was indicted in 2018 by a grand jury in Washington, along with a fourth brother, for the alleged trafficking of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana.
Following Thursday's discovery of Ovidio, local media reported that armed civilians in trucks roared through Culiacan's center shooting what appeared to be .50-caliber sniper rifles and machine guns. There was a heavy deployment of Mexican security forces.
Civilians panic, flee
Videos published on social media showed a scene resembling a war zone, with gunmen, some wearing black ski masks over their faces, riding in the back of trucks firing mounted machine guns as vehicles burned. People could be seen running for cover as machine gun fire rattled around them. Drivers drove in reverse frantically to move away from the clashes. Some drivers rolled under their stationary cars for cover.
Sinaloa public safety director Cristobal Castaneda told Milenio television the army launched the operation Thursday afternoon and soon afterward government surveillance cameras alerted authorities that gunmen in vehicles were circulating in Culiacan.
Castaneda said gunmen blocked streets with burning vehicles, a common tactic to make it difficult for security forces to maneuver. Simultaneously, some 20 to 30 prisoners escaped though some were quickly recaptured, he said.
State officials asked residents to avoid going out in parts of city.
Sinaloa's soccer club Dorados announced that it had canceled its game Thursday because of security concerns.
Sinaloa home to cartel
Sinaloa is home to the cartel by the same name, which was led by "El Chapo" Guzman. Guzman was sentenced to life in prison in the United States in July. He has many children.
After Guzman's third arrest in 2016, an internal battle for succession began playing out. The battle was resolved with the arrest of Damaso Lopez Nunez and his son Damaso Lopez Serrano, who led a rival faction.
Since then "Los Chapitos" and Zambada are believed to have run the cartel.