CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Border residents fear a spike in violence after Mexican forces captured the most wanted drug trafficker, Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman Loera, with help from the U.S.
Mexican marines, soldiers and federal police closed in on a Mazatlan condominium early Saturday morning and took Guzman into custody without firing a shot.
According to a senior U.S. law enforcement official, it was a joint operation authorized by Mexican authorities, but the U.S. had a limited timeframe to capture the kingpin – less than a month.
“I think it’s about time they caught him,” said Adolph Reza, 28, a visitor to Ciudad Juarez, where Guzman battled rivals for a key smuggling route to the U.S.
Reza, who lives in El Paso, bought a newspaper with Guzman’s photo under huge headline “Chapo Captured.”
“They’re selling like hotcakes,” said Manuel Urbina, a newspaper vendor in Juarez, whose stand is near the international bridge.
Mexico’s president confirmed Guzman’s capture via Twitter and congratulated military and federal law enforcement forces.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder described the arrest as “a landmark achievement, and a victory for the citizens of both Mexico and the United States.”
Many in Ciudad Juarez can hardly believe the news. Since his escape from a maximum security prison in Mexico in 2001, Guzman has become a mythical figure for eluding capture.
At a news conference Saturday, Mexico’s attorney general Jose Murillo Karam said Guzman's identify was “100 percent assured.”
With Guzman in custody there’s concern a power vacuum could lead to a spike in violence in cities like Juarez.
“He has a grip on nearly every major plaza in Mexico,” said the U.S. law enforcement official referring to drug trafficking hubs.
The Sinaloa cartel leader violently wrestled control away from the hometown Juarez cartel in a bloody turf battle over a key border drug-smuggling route.
The death toll of the drug war in Juarez topped 10,000 in a span of about five years, earning the city the title of Mexico’s murder capital. Drug violence has declined sharply in the last couple of years.
“Let’s hope it does not flare up again, because the violence really hurts our businesses,” said one local business owner.
Extortion became an issue for businesses large and small because cartels demanded protection money.
Both law enforcement and locals expect bloodshed as new leadership assumes control of the Sinaloa cartel. “I guess there’s going to be a lot more heads that are going to roll,” said Reza, who walked back across the bridge to El Paso.
Juarez residents fear the worst.
“I hope Chapo’s capture does not unleash the devil,” Urbina said.