Ovidio Guzmán López, a son of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo, was captured northwest of Mexico City on Thursday, but was freed after police came under heavy fire from cartel fighters, authorities said.
Rumors of an arrest had swirled for hours before its announcement on Thursday, setting off violent gunbattles across the city of Culiacán in Sinaloa state, home to the murderous Sinaloa Cartel, which El Chapo ran for decades before he was finally imprisoned in the United States.
In a video posted to social media on Thursday night, Security Minister Alfonso Durazo Monraño confirmed that Ovidio Guzmán was among four men who were discovered by a defense and National Guard contingent after it was attacked while on patrol in Culiacán.
“During that action, one of them was identified as Ovidio Guzmán López,” Durazo said.
But the patrol was quickly outmatched by cartel gunmen and was withdrawn to prevent lives being lost, the government said.
“The decision was taken to retreat from the house, without Guzman, to try to avoid more violence in the area and preserve the lives of our personnel and recover calm in the city,” Durazo told Reuters.
José Luis González Meza, a lawyer for “El Chapo’s” family, told The Associated Press that Guzmán’s family has said, “Ovidio is alive and free” but that he had no more details about what had happened.
Choking smoke poured into the air and gunfire could be heard for hours as word of Guzmán’s discovery spread, according to Reuters. Vehicles and a gas station were set on fire while cartel gunmen roamed the city in trucks, at least one of which was armed with a mounted machine gun, videos posted on social media showed.
State security officials told Telemundo, NBC’s Spanish-language network, that 30 to 40 inmates escaped from Aguaruto prison in Culiacán.
Guzmán, who is believed to be 28 or 29, is wanted in the United States after he was indicted with his brother Joaquín on federal drug conspiracy charges in February.
Prosecutors said the brothers conspired to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States from 2008 to 2018. U.S. authorities have said Ovidio Guzmán fought to seize control of the Sinaloa Cartel after his father was extradited to the United States in 2017.