Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico’s most powerful crime kingpin, escaped from a maximum-security prison through a hidden tunnel, authorities announced Sunday.
It is the second time Guzman, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico’s largest and most lucrative drug trafficker, has been able to flee prison. The first time was 2001, and he remained a fugitive until his arrest last year.
Mexican authorities said Guzman disappeared late Saturday from Altiplano prison, about 50 miles west of Mexico City. Soldiers occupied the capital’s international airport, flights were temporarily suspended at the nearby Toluca airport, near where the prison is located, and roadblocks were set up in the area.
Eighteen prison guards and other employees were detained for questioning.
U.S. officials had sought Guzman’s extradition, in part because they thought he would take advantage of the weak, corrupt Mexican justice system to continue his trafficking business and even, eventually, escape. Several U.S. federal indictments have been filed against Guzman, but Mexico had said it wanted to prosecute him first.