THE FOOTAGE IS unquestionably dramatic: Members of Mexico’s most elite security forces clear a four-bedroom house in a predawn raid. Over the course of 15 chaotic minutes, the Mexican marines can be seen moving room to room through the smoky building. Gunfire thunders. The walls are pocked with bullet holes. The commandos toss grenades. A marine goes down. “They got me,” he screams. The marines detain an unidentified individual with flex cuffs and find two women hiding in a bathroom. Garbage and high-powered rifles litter the floor.
The narrative that follows the gunfight is every bit as fast-paced. When the smoke cleared, four people were under arrest, with five more reported dead. Photos of their bloody bodies appeared online the next day. Two others escaped, however — one of them a stocky, bearded man named Ivan Gastelum, the alleged assassin-in-chief for the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico’s most powerful and sophisticated drug-trafficking organization. Gastelum, who goes by the nickname “El Cholo Ivan,” was accompanied in flight by his boss, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, the world’s most infamous drug trafficker and Mexico’s most wanted man.
According to a video of the raid obtained by Mexico’s Televisa network, which published the footage Monday accompanied by interviews with marines who took part in the operation, Gastelum and Guzmán relied on a familiar trick to elude the well-armed men bearing down on them: They dropped into a tunnel, the same tactic Guzmán had famously used six months earlier when he escaped from Mexico’s top maximum security prison, the second early exit from incarceration of his storied criminal career. This time around, Guzmán’s route to freedom was apparently hidden behind a closet mirror. It reportedly took an hour and a half for the marines to locate the lever, hidden in a ceiling fan, which allowed them to access the tunnel. According to some media accounts, the marines entered the passage carrying torches.