MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican government is taking unprecedented steps to prevent another prison escape by the world’s most notorious drug lord “El Chapo” Guzman, which includes moving him from cell to cell inside the same Altiplano maximum security prison where he escaped through a mile long tunnel back in July.
It would be El Chapo’s second brazen escape from a Mexican prison. The first being in 2001, when he escaped from the Puente Grande maximum-security detention center in Western Jalisco in a laundry cart.
Mexican marines nabbed Guzman during a predawn raid last Friday, which included a gunbattle that left six cartel gunmen dead and one Marine injured in the city of Los Mochis.
According to government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez, El Chapo has already been moved numerous times at the prison since Mexican marines apprehended him last Friday.
“Since he arrived, he has been in eight different cells,” Sanchez said of Guzman’s time in prison.
Prison officials have installed additional 24-hour video surveillance in all parts of his holding cell.
The cell he escaped from last time didn’t have cameras monitoring the shower, in order to protect inmates’ privacy. However, that all changed after his recent flight from prison.
“He is being changed from cell to cell without a pattern… he is only spending hours or a couple of days in the same cell,” Sanchez said late Tuesday night.
Guzman’s escape left President Enrique Pena Nieto embarrassed and strained ties with Washington after refusing to extradite the drug lord to the United States, where he faces indictments in several U.S. federal court districts.
However, Mexican officials have changed their stance after the capture and have pledged to fulfill the extradition request for Guzman submitted by U.S. authorities, but warned, the process could take a year to resolve.
While the boss of the Sinaloa cartel is still in held in Mexico, the government decided to implement increased preventive measures that would thwart a third escape attempt by the drug lord.
Meanwhile, Mexican law enforcement officials have started closely reviewing the intelligence gathered from the raid, including interrogations and the surveillance operation that included actors Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo, who traveled to meet with Guzman for an interview for Rolling Stone on Oct 2nd.
Federal officials said Penn and Del Castillo’s interview is what lead them to the location of Guzman’s hideout.
The military strategically placed 2,500-Marines to set up a security perimeter around the area.
In October, Penn expressed surprise that a military checkpoint allowed his vehicle through as he traveled to the location of the meeting with the Drug Lord.
A law enforcement official admitted that was part of the plan, which proved to be essential in tracking Guzman down.
A former government intelligence official, who has spent decades chasing the elusive drug lord told the Associated Press, this recent manhunt was different than the others.
“First, El Chapo stopped being clandestine. He left the mountain. As we now know he met with people, which made it easier for intelligence units to find him,” said the ex-official, who maintains sources inside security operations and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Michael Vigil, who is the former head of international operations at the Drug Enforcement Administration, who was briefed on the operation said, “It was obviously expensive, but they knew they had to flush Chapo Guzman out, which would be by flooding the area where he was located.”.
“It left Guzman no choice but to go to a safe house in Los Mochis, where he knew it would make him vulnerable, Vigil added.
Intelligence agents analyzed all phone calls, texts, and every movement in the region including the Oct. meeting that took place in Tamazula, Durango with Penn and Del Castillo, who arranged the interview
Vigil and the official said that Del Castillo’s phone calls, texts and other communications must have been monitored since she had her first real contact with Guzman last year, while he was still in prison.
Many people were clamoring to tell his life story, but El Chapo said he would only work with the Mexican actress, who the ex-official referred to as “Mexico’s Sharon Stone.”
Vigil also said intelligence sources revealed that “the movie was not Guzman’s primary goal, his first motivation to meet Kate del Castillo and striking a relationship there.”
“Guzman seemed infatuated with the sexy actress; he even referred to her by a code name “Hermosa,” or “Beautiful.”
Just four days after the Oct. 2 interview, the Mexican military launched fierce operations in the area where the meeting with Penn and Del Castillo had occurred, which Guzman narrowly escaped.
After the failed operations, federal agents increased surveillance on several properties linked to El Chapo around the area of Los Mochis.
But it was only last week that they started noticing a flurry of activity in one of the houses in an upscale neighborhood and intelligence officials discovered Emma Coronel, the wife of Guzman arrived with their twin daughters to celebrate the Feast of the Three Kings, a major Christmas-season holiday for Mexican children.
“It was no accident; holidays and birthdays are usually the best times to catch suspects.
“Even drug traffickers try to be with families during those times, and law enforcement units know this and take advantage of these contacts to find out their location,” he said.
In the end, the ex-official attributed Guzman’s capture to the drug lord “losing his footing.”
When they first met, Guzman was a mid-level capo without the folk hero image he has today. He was cautious and humble, addressing authorities in the most formal manner of speech. He could barely write, but is very intelligent, the ex-official said.
Today, the official said, he sees a man who let his ego take over.
Authorities found DVD’s of Del Castillo’s series, “The Queen of the South,” in which she plays a drug lord when they raided his Los Mochis home. Both Penn and the government said Guzman hoped to arrange his own movie.
“He fell in love with his own legend,” the ex-official said.