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Operation Gargoyle: Pursuit, capture and confessions of El Chapo

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February 26, 2014

Respectful, using no bad language, and in an even voice, Chapo confessed to having killed between 2,000 and 3,000 persons”
CIUDAD DE MEXICO, Mexico,
On January 19th of this year, 200 elite Mexican Navy marines landed in the Culiacán, Sinaloa, airport.
It was the start of Operation Gargoyle.
This is the story of how Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, the most wanted man in the world, was located, pursued, surrounded and captured, according to the testimony of the Navy soldiers who arrested him, their commanders who coordinated the operation, and the elements of the PGR (Attorney General) who assisted.

Translated by unvato for Borderland Beat (parts of the text interlinks to the video found at bottom)

This is the building.
This is the apartment.
This is the room.
This is the bath.
And behind this door, the last hideaway of ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.
Here, he was apprehended by an elite commando, made up of six marine troops.

To locate him, they tapped his phones, they used aircraft to spy on him, they intercepted his radio communications, they had recent photographs of him, they figured out he had three weaknesses (money, women and candy), that he was a fan of Tutsi-Pop and peanuts, that he frequently ordered good food from restaurants, that he never spent more than two days under the same roof, that he dyed his hair and mustache, that he had exercise walking machines in all his safe houses, that he had recently lost weight, that he didn’t use a cell phone, that many times he would make his men eat the food they took him to make sure it wasn’t poisoned, that he didn’t use drugs any more, that he was so mistrustful that he allowed only four people to be with him at all times: Chaneke, his chief of security; Condor, his chief of communications;  Nariz, his main errand boy, all three former members of Army Special Forces, and his cook.

It was 6:00 a.m., Mazatlan, Sinaloa, time, 7:00 a.m. Central Mexico time, this past Saturday, February 22, when Joaquin Guzman Loera showed his face through the bathroom door of the main bedroom in apartment No. 401 in the Torre Miramar (Miramar Tower) on the Mazatlan coast.  Then he showed his unarmed hands and, on being firmly told to surrender because he was surrounded, he responded four times: “OK”.
But to be exact, the story of the arrest of the most wanted man in the world began 120 miles from here, a month ago, in a place in the middle of nowhere.
There’s nothing to see anywhere. Wherever one turns, it’s swamp, dirt and bushes; for “El Chapo Guzman”, his new jewel, the ranch in the community of Sanchez Celis, in the municipality of Culiacán
Chapo’s ‘Miramar’ condo is now rendered a tourist attraction

For the authorities, Plan ‘A’.

Here’s where they wanted to capture him. It looked like an ideal place to them because there were no civilians around, because it is much more difficult to escape and get lost.
In addition, government intelligence reports pointed out that Guzman Loera visited the property only with his family, to spend time with his children, and for that reason, he preferred that there not be a lot of weapons and bodyguards around.
This is the access to the ranch. With mosquito netting that covers the garage completely, so that if somebody were lost around there, taking pictures or getting ready to shoot, he would not have a target, would not be able to see him, could not photograph him.
He would get down from his vehicle parked here, knowing full well that they could be spying on him from the air, with the use of satellite systems or aircraft. The route remains covered all the way, roofed until you get to the house. This is the main ranch house, which, according to what they tell us, was still under construction, and here, outside, we can see a new platform in this swamp, and the paradise he had constructed to visit with his family; Joaquin Guzman Loera.
The ranch is a complex of bungalows with a main house that surround a jacuzzi, a wading pool and a swimming pool with a bar.
It’s all new.
The guest room is a luxurious suite of 150 meters square, with glowing furniture and with all the amenities.
The main house includes a principal bedroom, where presumably the leader of the Sinaloa cartel slept, and two adjacent rooms for the children and the nannies, joined by a dining room and an open kitchen.
One bungalow is a play room still being furnished, another one has space for ladies’ and men’s rooms; another is a kitchen that can cook for a banquet.
Government technology also allowed observation of last minute work and detected when “Chapo” got there, much earlier than they had expected him.
That’s why Plan ‘A’ was aborted. Government agents weren’t prepared to proceed against such a powerful objective. And ‘Chapo’ Guzman never went back to the ranch.
Chapo’s new ranch

Plan ‘B’ was located 21 miles to the north. In the very heart of the city of Culiacán, his bastion.

Authorities say that discretion his strength. He didn’t use sports cars or showy pickups, but he did use high quality pickups and automobiles with Level 7 armor, the highest grade available.  He would travel in one vehicle, two at most.
His safe houses, in middle or upper middle class neighborhoods. Government reports describe the homes as attractive, safe and with escape routes. Joaquin Guzman would jump from one house to another, and he felt at ease in Culiacan. The Navy’s strategy was to double its presence in the city; patrols, roadblocks, searches, operations. They wanted ‘El Chapo’ to feel harassed so he would leave the more populated zones and they could capture him in outlying areas.
That was Plan ‘B’: If Culiacan was his bunker, they wanted to get him out of there.
But he never left. It appears that he did not feel insecure. They understood why on Monday, in the early hours of February 17, when they tried to open the door to his house.
It was Plan ‘C’. Take him wherever he was. 200 men went after him.
The intelligence work by Mexican authorities had determined the areas where ‘Chapo’ Guzman was located. In the early hours of February 17, around 3:00 a.m., they managed to capture a man called “Nariz” (“Nose”), one of the men closest to Mexico’s most wanted man, when he was on his way home. “Nariz” was his personal assistant  and would run errands and satisfy his whims.
“Nariz”, when he was captured, tried to mislead the authorities. He lied to them about the house where “Chapo” was staying, but the authorities were able to disprove it immediately because their technical abilities has already allowed them to locate precisely the area, the street — Rio Maya Street –, where “El Chapo” was hiding, so the authorities went there and parked their vehicles.
They parked them right in front of the house where he was staying. With their weapons, a tight group of Marines lit up the windows of the house where they were minutes away from catching “Chapo” Guzman. The moment they shone their lights they saw a light turned on and off, and they were certain that there was somebody inside, probably the most wanted capo in Mexico. The windows closed automatically, so the Marine used special equipment to try to go in through this electric garage door.
Now, let’s look at the doors from the inside. They went in through this one, because it didn’t have any bolts; they had forgotten to slide the bolts. But this one, this one had two large locks. They didn’t open this door, but we’re going to go in through here to learn about the house where they were minutes away from capturing “El Chapo” in Culiacan, Sinaloa, and also about what we talked about a little earlier.
This is the door, this is commonly found in any house with an electric door. But what is not common are these security rods that, upon closing, prevent any person from opening  the door. But they had forgotten to close these, they were not locked, and that’s where Marine elements went in. They thought they were done, that they had him, that it had been a relatively quick operation.
What they had not counted on was that this door is doubly reinforced with steel.
With a large hammer, called breaching equipment, they began to pound, pound on it. The hammer broke, but the door didn’t open. They had to use another hammer, because this door had three … see how heavy it is. It had three of these pieces of steel placed across the door in such a way that if somebody broke off a piece of the door, only that piece would break off, the rest would not.
Not only that; the four metal compartments were filled with water. What’s that for? What they tell us is that when one is hammering on metal, the heat that it generates causes it to bend until it breaks. But when it is filled with water, one, the shock is absorbed, and two, the metal stays cold and won’t bend. According to the reports, it took eight minutes to open this door. It normally takes three seconds. Those eight minutes allowed “El Chapo” to escape through a complicated system of tunnels installed under this and other homes in the area.

Let’s go inside the house. This is the route the Marines took on Monday, the 17th, just as the sun was coming up. They had waited until that time — 6 a.m.– so that in case “Chapo” came out in a vehicle, on foot, or whatever, the helicopters could track him. There’s a small storeroom, it has one of these… Christmas trees. There’s a bath, and a complete kitchen.
They told us that he kept several homes completely furnished so that he could sleep in the one he would choose at the last minute. He was so mistrustful that he wouldn’t tell anybody where he was going to sleep. He simply sent his most trusted people ahead and everything was ready.
Remains of a meal, vegetables. This is the kitchen. One of the characteristics that authorities reveal about “El Chapo” is that he was a very paranoid man. The authorities say that he maintained a television monitor that showed everything that was happening outside and inside the house, so he was always on alert. According to the marines, when they got inside the house at 6:00 a.m., the monitors were switched on.
Let’s go back to the house, where we’ll find the key point, the escape point.
Peanuts to eat while watching TV, and again, the security monitor. The house has two floors; on top, there are living areas and a lot of security equipment. There are bathroom supplies, clothing on the floor, this is the bedroom, and again, the TV and the monitoring equipment. The government followed “Chapo” Guzman’s activities very closely. They say that Buchanan’s ’18’ was his favorite drink. People close to him said he no longer took drugs, like he did before.
And this was the key. The marines got inside and they felt very frustrated because they thought they had him, but those eight minutes gave “Chapo” the advantage.

Let’s see how he escaped. This is the bathroom in the bedroom that is located on the first floor where they almost got Guzman Loera. And this is the tub, in reality the tunnel. A hydraulic system lifts the tub and opens a stairway. Don’t think it would open the way I just did it. In reality, they discovered that you have to move this plug with a connection tied to a cable so that it completes a circuit, then the mirror here causes the tub to lift automatically. This is the escape route.
The marines who had studied “El Chapo” said that his most important weapon, what he had counted on more than money, more than weapons, was time. That’s what allowed him to get away on February 17, in the early morning hours in Culiacan, Sinaloa: time.
(Photo of reporter in tunnel)  (Caption: this tunnel is approximately 1.8 miles long and reaches the river. Let’s look at it.)
The tunnel is approximately 1.4 meters in height (4.5 ft. high), and there’s places where it gets much narrower. The first stretch of the tunnel is completely wired for electricity. The tunnel connects farther down with the rain drainage system for the city of Culiacan, and from there on, of course, conditions change. This escape route had steel compartment doors, and this is the drainage system for the city of Culiacan.
The escape took approximately 1.8 miles in these conditions. The Marine troops followed his footsteps thanks to an expert tracker who managed to find signs on the tunnel corners and turns that told him they had gone that way, for example, spots where they had sat down to rest. Because the posture is very uncomfortable — one has to walk bent over –, for a 57 year old man in “Chapo’s” condition, that’s how it was.
It was 1.8 miles until he got to the river and there the Culiacan plaza boss, whom he had called by phone, picked him up and took him away.
According to authorities, “Chapo” presented lacerations on his shoulders and on his head, the result of that escape. Because a few meters beyond the first part of the tunnel there is no light. He himself told authorities that he did not have a flashlight, that he was bumping things and hurt his shoulders, his head. This is verified in the investigation report.
Eight minutes. That was the head start that the most wanted capo on the planet had on the authorities who wanted to capture him. Eight minutes and a tunnel that connected with the rain drains, a dark labyrinth of clear and dirty water.
The elite team of marines that followed him through the entrails of “Culichi” reported that “El Chapo” and his men, most probably exhausted by the long race in the dark and bent over forward, left stuff behind, first a suitcase with clothing, then some grenades, farther ahead, bulletproof vests, then, finally, at the opening of the drain, right on the Humaya River, a grenade launcher that, had they fired it at their pursuers, would have killed every one of them.

According to the official report, they took advantage of drain openings to call for help with their cell phones.
When they came out of the main drain, a few yards from the Sinaloa Government building, the escape was not finished.
He ran about a quarter of a mile along this dirt road, passed to one side of the National Water Commission offices and stopped in the shade under this tree, where “El Picudo”, his plaza boss in Culiacan, picked him up, this according to the testimony of both “El Chapo” and “El Picudo”.
The PGR investigation establishes that Manuel Lopez Osorio, “El Picudo”, took him to Kilometer 24 on the Culiacan-Mazatlan highway, where he switched cars to one driven by Alejandro “Bravo” Aponte, his security chief  in the area around Culiacan.
“El Chapo” vanished.

Chapo did not resist arrest-his injuries were from slamming into tunnel walls while escaping two days earlier in Culiacán without light of any source

If he planned his escape for years, if he connected five homes with tunnels to the drainage system, if he bought homes around him for his men, it worked. He bought time. Eight minutes, to be precise. Time in the shape of reinforced doors, hydraulically lifted bath tub, tunnel, walls, partitions, compartment doors. Because of those eight minutes,  he escaped from them. In the media, it was erroneously reported that authorities had been close to finding Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, partner and “compadre” of Guzman Loera, the true target.  It took only one day for the members of Operation Gargoyle to regain hope. They arrested “El Picudo”. He revealed details about the escape and gave them a new clue: “El Chapo” is in Mazatlan.
On Februry 19, they captured the brothers Kevin Alonso and Karim Elias Gil Acosta, communications operators for the Sinaloa Cartel. They provided the addresses of some of his favorite hideouts. And they kept interrogating Mario Hidalgo Arguello, aka “Nariz”.

The first information that the government intelligence agencies received was that he was hiding out in a luxury hotel spa called Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort, north of Mazatlan. On February 21, the guest register at the Miramar building shows the arrival of new guests to Apartment 401. They leased it for three months at 40,000 pesos ($3,077.00). A young man by the name of Allon signed the lease. In reality, he was “Condor”, the only man he had left.
A few hours later, at 5:45 a.m., Mazatlan time, on February 22, a hand-picked team of 30 Navy marines, who had arrived one by one from Culiacan so as not to attract attention, parked on the coast highway, entered the Miramar, secured the surrounding areas, placed a guard on an adjacent swimming pool in case the capo decided to escape by jumping from his window, questioned the watchman, broke first into Apartment 602, detained two apparently intoxicated persons, decided they weren’t their targets and went down two floors to the fourth floor.
This is building 401 of the Miramar building on the Mazatlan, Sinaloa, coast highway. Inside this place, “Chapo” Guzman was arrested. According to the statements that authorities have given us, they got to this point thanks to their technical capabilities for locating persons.
Once inside, they were going to try to open the door with a key, a lock pick, but through the door they heard, so they tell us, the sound of an AR-15 being cocked. So they decided to bust the door quickly and the first thing they see in the entry room is a man called “Condor”, “Chapo” Guzman’s chief of security.
“Condor”, according to the narrative, hides behind this door holding a weapon. The marines come in with a bulletproof shield and tell him, “Give up, Condor”, and, according to this part of the narrative, he drops the weapon and is immediately apprehended.
A group of six marines go through this hallway in the apartment of  a little over 100 meters square, where there is a wheelchair that, according to the building administrators, was ordered by “El Condor”, who gave a false name when he registered, because he said he was going to bring up his grandfather. They don’t eliminate the possibility that, as a disguise, they may have used the wheelchair to bring “El Chapo” up here in the elevator.
When they get here, according to what they tell us, the marine team breaks up into three parts. Two men go to this first room where there are two women and the two youngest daughters of the total of 16 children that  “El Chapo” has fathered. The nanny was there, along with the cook that always traveled with “Chapo” wherever he went because they say he likes good food, and here were the two daughters. These two persons are secured.
Two men go through this door, not knowing it was a bathroom; they don’t find anything.
And two men go on to the main bedroom, which is this one. According to the narrative from the Navy marines, they got to this point and saw a woman that was, shall we say, in a sleeping position, awake at 5:45 local time here in Mazatlan, 6:45 Central. She stands up and says there’s nobody else, please don’t touch her.

Then the marines go into (the room) to search. The closets and the bathroom door were closed, and when they cannot open it completely, that’s when they call out to Joaquin Guzman to surrender, who, according to this part of the report, was hiding behind the bathroom door.
It’s not until the third time they order him that he agrees to surrender, they bring him down, and that’s where they handcuff him and he is secured. According to the report, the operation in the apartment took two minutes, and 17 minutes from the time they entered the building. According to the official report, they twice yelled at him to surrender, but he didn’t respond. The third time was louder. Also, they told him the entire building was surrounded. And they called him by his nickname, “Chapo”, using “tu” (you), the familiar form of address.
He stuck his head out and pulled it back. He showed his two empty hands and pulled them back again.
The marine trooper told him there might be gunshots. “Give up, Chapo,” he yelled at him. The soldier recalls that the capo answered with an “Ok”, repeated four times. He showed his body and they subdued him.
The operation took 17 minutes.
They placed all the detainees in armored pickups. “Chapo” and his associate “El Condor” were driven around the block to a dirt football field, where a Blackhawk helicopter flew them to the local airport. From there, a Learjet 60 took them to Mexico City.
An hour and ten minutes of flight time.
Those that traveled with him describe a calm man, respectful, who always responded by referring to his questioners as “boss”, charismatic, frank, with a heavy Sinaloa accent accompanied by gestures and facial expressions, but no bad language, in an even voice, who confessed to having killed between 2,000 and 3,000 persons, among them Ramon Arellano Felix, but not Cardinal Posadas.
He said that when he escaped from prison, he hid out in Nayarit and then in his ranch in Badiraguato, Sinaloa. He said that at first, the Beltran Leyvas treated him well, like the chief that he was, but later he found out that they wanted to kill him, that’s why they split up.
He told them about a dinner that he had recently with Rafael Caro Quintero, who he said was in the mountains and was not interested in going back into the drug business. They asked him about “El Mayo” Zambada and he told them he was also in the mountains. They asked him about his other partner, Juan Jose Esparragoza, “El Azul”, and he answered that he might be in Guadalajara. They asked him about “El Lazca”, the former leader of “Los Zetas”, and he said he was his enemy, but that he was a gentleman.
They asked him about “La Tuta” and “Los Templarios”, and he described them as filthy thieves.
They asked him if he had money and he told them: “I don’t have anything, it’s a myth of Forbes (magazine)”, but they reminded him that they had just seized three watches worth $115,000.00 each, 16 houses and 43 vehicles, 19 of them armored.
When the plane landed in the Federal District International Airport, the news had spread around the world.
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera was arrested in the bathroom of the main bedroom of an apartment that has a view of the ocean in front, and to the rear, the offices of the local police.

About Doc

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