‘El Chapo’ Prison Break: Mexico Offers $3.8 Million Reward for Capture

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Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's whereabouts are anyone's guess. And the clock is ticking.

The leader of the Sinaloa cartel stepped into a shower at the maximum security prison in Almoloya de Juárez, crawled through a hole and vanished through a mile-long tunnel apparently built just for him.

That was Saturday night.

By early Tuesday morning -- despite a $3.8 million reward -- there was still no sign of Guzman.

A photograph released by Mexican law enforcement shows Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman during a February 2014 arrest.

A photograph released by Mexican law enforcement shows Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman during a February 2014 arrest.

The first 72 hours (after the escape) are extraordinarily important here," said Mike Braun, a former chief of operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration who spent years tracking and gathering evidence on Guzman."

"And if they don't get their hands on him then, I don't know, we may never see this guy again."

A hefty reward

On Monday night, the the country's attorney general announced a reward of up to 60 million pesos ($3.8 million) for information leading to Guzman's capture.

She also released what she said was a recent photograph of the cartel kingpin. The image shows Guzman with a shaved head and face -- and without the trademark mustache he sported when authorities nabbed him last year.

Authorities have questioned 34 people in connection with the escape. And the prison director and other prison officials have been fired.

Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said Monday it was likely prison workers played a role.

Guzman, he said, was inside a cell with 24-hour hour closed circuit video surveillance and a bracelet that monitored his every move. The video system, he said, had two blind spots that Guzman exploited. And he left the bracelet behind before he crawled into the tunnel and made his getaway.

DEA alerted Mexico?

Guzman, whose nickname means "Shorty," has pulled off an elaborate escape from a maximum-security prison before. In 2001, he managed to break free while reportedly hiding in a laundry cart. It took authorities 13 years to catch him -- sleeping at a Mexican beach resort.

A manhunt was under way for Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who authorities say slipped through a hole in a shower at the prison where he was held and made his way through a nearly mile-long tunnel to freedom on Saturday night, July 11, 2015. (Credit: Mexico Attorney General's Office)

A manhunt was under way for Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who authorities say slipped through a hole in a shower at the prison where he was held and made his way through a nearly mile-long tunnel to freedom on Saturday night, July 11, 2015. (Credit: Mexico Attorney General's Office)

 That he managed to pull an escape off again has U.S. officials fuming. When he was arrested in Mexico last year, the United States asked to have him extradited, in part because of concerns of a prison escape.

Guzman began plotting his latest prison break almost immediately.

According to internal Drug Enforcement Administration documents obtained by the Associated Press, agents were tipped off last year that Guzman's relatives and associates were considering "potential operations to free Guzman."

A U.S. official told the AP the DEA alerted Mexican officials. The Mexican Interior Secretary denied that assertion Monday night.

Search intensifies

It's possible Guzman is hiding out in the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City while the search is hot, a Mexican official told CNN.

But in the end, the official said it's likely Guzman will head back to his home turf in the Sinaloa region on the Pacific Coast, where there's a vast network of local residents who will help him stay out of harm's way.

Just like the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden famously hid in a remote, mountainous area of Afghanistan, Guzman is believed to have found refuge at times during his past stints on the lam in rugged mountain areas of Mexico.

"It's like Tora-Bora there," the official said.

How he did it

Guzman took a sophisticated route during his escape, officials believe: a tunnel complete with lighting, ventilation and even a modified motorcycle on tracks "that was likely used to remove dirt during the excavation and transport the tools for the dig," Mexican National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said.

The tunnel began with a 50-by-50-centimeter (20-by-20-inch) opening inside the shower of Guzman's cell, Rubido said. The tunnel stretched for about a mile and ended inside a half-built house

To pull off the escape, it's likely the Sinaloa cartel had spent years infiltrating the country's prison system, a Mexican official told CNN on Monday. Whoever helped in the plot likely had the architectural plans for the prison that pointed them toward the shower area, the official said.

As authorities detailed the evidence they'd found pointing to Guzman's escape through the underground passageway, one drug war expert questioned Monday whether the notorious kingpin even used the tunnel at all.

"If he went out that tunnel, it was with an armed escort, most likely a mix of prison guards and his own people, if the past is prologue," said Don Winslow, who's tracked Guzman's career for 15 years and wrote about a fictional version of the famed kingpin's 2001 escape in his recent novel "The Cartel."

"My bet is that he went out the front gate, and the tunnel was a tissue-thin face-saving device for Mexican officials, the motorcycle a dramatic improvement over the laundry cart."

'A complete savage'

Guzman has been a nightmare for both sides of the border. He reigns over a multibillion dollar global drug empire that supplied much of the marijuana, cocaine and heroin sold on the streets of the United States.

Guzman heads the Sinaloa cartel, which the U.S. Justice Department says is "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.

"He is a complete savage," Fuentes said. "What they do, and how they do business, is based on complete terror. ... They kill journalists, politicians, police officers, corrections officers. And then not just that person, but every member of their family."

The Sinaloa cartel moves drugs by land, air and sea, including cargo aircraft, private aircraft, buses, fishing vessels and even submarines, the Justice Department has said.

The cartel has become so powerful that Forbes magazine listed Guzman among the ranks of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in its 2009 list of "self-made" billionaires. Guzman's estimated fortune at the time was $1 billion.

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