Mexican authorities have launched a manhunt to find drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman, who has broken out of prison again, the country’s National Security Commission said Sunday.
Guards at the Altiplano Federal Prison discovered during a routine check on Saturday that Guzman, known as “El Chapo,” was missing, a statement from the commission said.
Guzman escaped through a hole in his cell that led to a lighted and ventilated tunnel nearly a mile long, Mexico National Security spokesman Monte Alejandro Rubido García confirmed Sunday morning at a press conference in Mexico City.
Guzman is the storied boss of one of the world’s most powerful and deadly drug trafficking operations.
He escaped in 2001 from a high-security prison in a laundry cart and was not apprehended again until 2014, when he was arrested at a Mexican beach resort.
‘The world’s most powerful drug lord’
Guzman heads the Sinaloa Cartel, which the U.S. Justice Department describes as “one of the world’s most prolific, violent and powerful drug cartels.” It says Guzman was “considered the world’s most powerful drug lord until his arrest in Mexico in February 2014.”
“The Sinaloa Cartel moves drugs by land, air, and sea, including cargo aircraft, private aircraft, submarines and other submersible and semi-submersible vessels, container ships, supply vessels, go-fast boats, fishing vessels, buses, rail cars, tractor trailers, trucks, automobiles, and private and commercial interstate and foreign carriers,” the Justice Department said earlier this year.
The trafficking network keeps U.S. drug agents busy. In January, the Justice Department unsealed indictments naming 60 members of the cartel, including Guzman’s son, Ivan Archivaldo Guzman-Salazar, aka “El Chapito.”
The main indictment said the cartel imported cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, other drugs and the chemicals necessary to process methamphetamine into Mexico from various countries, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California said in a news release.
The drugs were then smuggled into San Diego for distribution throughout the United States, the statement said, adding that money was then laundered through a variety of means.
In just one phase of the investigation, which the Justice Department said spanned eight countries and a dozen U.S. states, authorities seized more than 1,400 pounds of methamphetamine, almost 3,000 pounds of cocaine, 12.2 tons of marijuana and 5,500 oxycodone pills, along with $14.1 million.
Also this year, federal authorities announced: Thirty-one people were charged in February with conspiring to launder $100 million for the Sinaloa Cartel in a cash-for-gold scheme; Jose Rodrigo Arechiga-Gamboa, an alleged Sinaloa kingpin who goes by “Chino Antrax,” pleaded guilty in federal court in May to helping coordinate the shipment of tons of marijuana and cocaine into the U.S.; and last month, U.S. officials announced indictments against a Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based trafficking network with ties to Sinaloa.
Toluca International Airport closed
In Mexico, the diminutive Guzman became a larger-than-life figure as he eluded authorities while expanding a drug empire that spanned the world. His life story became the topic of best-selling books and the subject of adoring songs known as narcocorridos.
In the United States, he is wanted on multiple federal drug trafficking and organized crime charges.
His nickname, which means “Shorty,” matches his 5-foot-6-inch frame.
The statement from the National Security Commission said that, at 8:52 p.m. Saturday, surveillance cameras at the Altiplano federal prison saw Guzman approaching a shower area in which prisoners also wash their belongings.
When Guzman was not seen again for some time, officials checked his cell, found it empty, and issued an alert.
Altiplano is a maximum security prison in south central Mexico.
Officials not only launched a manhunt, they also closed Toluca International Airport, a 45-minute drive away.
By Ed Payne and Don Melvin
CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.