On the night of July 11, the leader of one of the world’s largest drug empires casually stood up from his bed, walked to the far corner of his prison cell, and escaped through a sophisticated andcustom-engineered tunnel system, one of the hallmarks of his Sinaloa Cartel.
And a little over a year earlier, one of his lieutenants escaped from prison using almost identical means.
A little more than 14 months before Sinaloa cartel kingpinJoaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán
escaped from the Altiplano maximum-security prison, fellow c
artel operative Adelmo Niebla González, broke out of a different facility, also by tunnel.
What’s more, both Guzmán and Niebla’s cells were located on the ground floor of each prison.
Given the Sinaloa’s proficiency in tunnelling — the group has dug scores of passageways under the US-Mexican border — and this earlier escape, placing Guzman in a ground-floor cell was ill-advised.
“If you know that the modus operandi of the Sinaloa cartel involves tunnelling, you just don’t lock this guy up on the prison’s ground floor,” Mexican Senator Alejandro Encinas reportedly said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In 2012 Niebla was imprisoned at the Culiacán penitentiary for smuggling marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin, and firearms across the Mexican-US border.
Niebla, nicknamed “El Señor” or “The Lord,” snuck out of prison with two other inmates in May 2014 via a quarter mile-long tunnel that plunged 46-feet into the earth.
The ventilated and illuminated escape route passed under a canal and was constructed in less than three months, Borderland Beat reports.
Sinaloa’s tunnelling prowess
In 1989, the Sinaloa cartel utilised its first cross-border “narcotúnel” to smuggle illicit materials. “Since then, Sinaloa has refined the art of underground construction and has used tunnels more effectively than any criminal group in history,” The New Yorker reports.
According to The New Yorker, investigators estimate that a single Sinaloa “narcotúnel” requires more than a million dollars and several months to construct.
“I think it’s a very small group of elite members of the cartel that are doing this. This is highly sophisticated work,” Sherri Hobson, a federal prosecutor in California told The New Yorker.
“A lot of people think that you have a shovel and you dig. That’s not the way it works,” Hobson added.
Arched ceilings, makeshift ventilation ducts, electric lights, and even railways are some hallmarks of the Sinaloa cartel’s extraordinary tunnels, the New Yorker reports.
The tunnels that supplied Niebla and Guzmán their escape from different Mexican prisons also have several striking similarities.
Both secret passageways featured ventilation system with makeshift PVC piping. Both were illuminated. And both emerged in unfinished and abandoned construction sites.
For extra security the nondescript site is at least a half-mile away from any other building.
Notably, Guzmán’s first jail break in 2001 was from a facility that looks almost identical to Aliplano:
Dámaso López, a former employee of the Puente Grande prison, from which Guzman escaped in 2001, is a prime suspect in the investigation into Guzmán’s latest escape,The New York Timesreportsciting a senior Mexican law-enforcement official.
Authorities believe López may have stolen a copy of the prison’s blueprints before leaving his post at Puente Grande. “López is believed to have close knowledge of the layout of the prisons and security procedures. The tunnel makers may have also had the GPS coordinates for Mr. Guzmán’s shower stall,” The New York Times reports.
Considering both prisons are shockingly similar in layout, the stolen blueprints from 2001 would have tremendously aided Guzmán’s accomplices in helping him escape.
Since Guzmán fled Alitplano, several other prison employees have been arrested for colluding with the the drug trafficker.
In 2014, Mexican marines found a complex tunnel network inside one of Guzmán’s hideouts in Culiacan, Mexico. Lifting up a bathtub, investigators climbed into a passage that lead to the city’s drainage system.
Guzman escaped through the tunnel, running barefoot underground for as much as a mile, according to The New Yorker. Mexican marines caught up with him a few days later in the coastal city of Mazatlan, pulling off one of the biggest drug arrests in Mexican history.
Now, Guzman’s triggered yet another manhunt. The world’s most notorious drug lord is still at large.
NOW WATCH: Here’s how the world’s most notorious drug lord escaped from his high-security prison cell
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