Shootings broke out in the capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa after security forces captured one of the sons of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, wanted by the United States for drug trafficking.
Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval said members of the army and national guard captured 32-year-old Ovidio Guzman in a pre-dawn operation in Culiacan.
Three years ago, an attempted arrest of Ovidio ended in humiliation for the government when President Andrew Manuel Lopez Obrador ordered the military to let him go after gunmen fired on the city with high power weapons.
This time, local and state officials in Sinaloa warned residents to stay indoors, suspended local government activities and closed schools, while the Mexican army closed Culiacan airport amid the strikes of fire.
Mexican airline Aeromexico said one of its planes was hit by gunfire before a scheduled flight to Mexico City, although no one was injured.
Videos on social media appeared to show heavy fighting across the city as the sky was lit up by helicopter gunfire.
Ovidio’s capture comes ahead of Mr. Lopez Obrador’s hosting of a summit of North American leaders in Mexico City next week, at which US President Joe Biden is expected to discuss drug trafficking.
“This is a blow to the Sinaloa Cartel and a major victory for the rule of law,” said Mike Vigil, former DEA chief of international operations.
“However, this will not stop the flow of drugs to the United States. Hopefully Mexico will extradite him to the United States.”
Six months of surveillance in cartel territory
Ovidio’s capture is the result of six months of reconnaissance and surveillance in cartel territory, Sandoval said.
National Guard troops spotted SUVs, some with homemade armor, and immediately coordinated with the military as they established a perimeter around the suspect vehicles and forced the occupants out in order to search them.
Security forces then came under fire but were able to take control of the situation and identify Ovidio among those present and in possession of firearms, Sandoval said.
Cartel members set up 19 roadblocks covering all access points to Culiacan town, including Culiacan airport and outside the local military base.
A leader of the “juniors” faction
Mr Sandoval said Ovidio was the leader of a Sinaloa faction he called “los menores” or “the juniors”, also known as “los Chapitos” or “the little Chapos”.
The other “little Chapos” are two of his brothers, Ivan Archivaldo Guzman and Jesus Alfredo Guzman, who allegedly ran cartel operations with Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
Mr. Vigil said the Chapitos took greater control over the cartel because Zambada was in poor health and isolated in the mountains.
“The Chapitos know that if El Mayo dies, (the cartel) will break apart if they don’t have control,” he said.
“It will be very important for the United States to request Ovidio’s extradition quickly and for Mexico to do so.”
The United States offered a $5 million reward
A 2018 federal indictment in Washington, DC charged Ovidio with conspiring to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine and cannabis in the United States.
The US has offered a $5m (£4m) reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Ovidio, who has become a key figure in the cartel since the arrest of his father.
It is unclear whether Ovidio will be extradited to the United States like his father, who is serving a life sentence at Supermax prison in Colorado.