New details from Mexican officials and sources purporting to have ties to “El Chapo" Guzmán’s family confirm what could be a troubling development for Mexico: That one or possibly two of Guzmán’s sons have been kidnapped by the Jalisco New Generation cartel, the Sinaloa cartel’s only real rival in the country.
Initial reports indicated that Ivan Archivaldo Guzmán, the kingpin’s oldest son, had been abducted, but Eduardo Almaguer, the state prosecutor for Mexico’s Jalisco state, reported that Jesus Alfredo Guzmán, the kingpin’s youngest son, was the one taken.
"The person by the name of Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, age 29, is the son of Joaquin Guzman Loera,” Almaguer said at a news conference.
His abduction “has been confirmed by what was found in the vehicles and what security agencies found and the forensic examinations performed,” Almaguer added.
Pablo Badillo, a lawyer for the “El Chapo” Guzmán, told CNN that the family had told him "the possibility of Ivan Archivaldo having been abducted is very high,“ however.
Both sons have been named by the US government as drug traffickers and are believed to have assumed a greater role in the Sinaloa cartel’s operations after their father’s rearrest in January.
While Mexico’s marines, federal police, state police, and top prosecutor’s office were involved in the search for the missing men, Almaguer said authorities had not been notified by anyone involved in or linked to the crime.
"We have not received a single report from anyone to help locate these people who were (kidnapped),” Almaguer said, according to the AP, nor had they heard of anyone demanding a ransom.
The vacuum created by Guzmán’s capture had already allowed fractures to form in the Sinaloa cartel, which is better understood as a confederation of cooperating factions, rather than a hierarchical cartel led by a single leader or group.
But, in a development that gives the incident a more sinister hue, Mexican authorities also confirmed that the rival Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG) was behind the kidnapping.
CJNG is considered the biggest cartel operating in Jalisco state, even though some reports indicate that Puerto Vallarta is Sinaloa cartel territory.
CJNG is considered Mexico’s fastest-growing and most violent cartel, known for narcobloqueos — torching commandeered vehicles to make roadblocks — and for an incident in spring 2015 in which the group downed a military helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade.
“If it is confirmed that the kidnapping of one of Guzmán’s sons … by the [CJNG] we would add a new and powerful enemy for the Sinaloa cartel," Adrián López, editor of the Sinaloa-based newspaper El Noroeste, told The Guardian.
Earlier reports also indicated that the kidnapping took place without gunfire.
According to Mexican magazine Proceso, sources in the Mexican Intelligence and National Security Center (Cisen) had information that Ivan and Alfredo only traveled in public with eight to 10 bodyguards. Given that information, those sources were surprised to see an operation in which the assailants knew not only the location of their targets and when they would be there, but were also able to disable the bodyguards or knew when the bodyguards wouldn’t be there.
The kidnapping has dark implications for Mexico’s narco world, as it suggests a new round of inter-cartel fighting is on the horizon.
"That’s a pretty gutsy move,” Samuel Logan, managing partner at the business and security consulting firm Southern Pulse, told the Associated Press of the kidnapping.“It doesn’t surprise me that they would push to escalate this to the next level.”
“I believe the Jalisco New Generation cartel wants to take over the Sinaloa cartel,” Raul Benitez, a security expert and professor in Mexico City told The Wall Street Journal, calling it a “war for inheritance.”
Though it may be a harbinger of future violence, the kidnapping is not the first clash between these two powerful cartels.
A source purporting to have ties to the Guzmán family told Proceso that the family suspects this incident is related to a June attack on Guzmán’s hometown, in which an armed gang believed to be led by Alfredo Beltran Leyva — another former ally of Guzmán’s turned foe — ransacked the home of Guzmán’s mother and left several people dead.
Violence targeting family members would not be new among Mexico’s narcos.
The killing of another of Guzmán’s sons, Edgar, in 2008 coincided with a break between the Sinaloa cartel and the Beltran Leyva family as well as with the Sinaloa cartel’s move into rival territory in Ciudad Juarez, igniting a war that left thousands dead before subsiding around 2012.
“There is a war right now for control of the Sinaloa cartel and a central theme in that war is the issue of attacks on his family,” Benitez told the AP. “People have information about the family’s movements and they want to destroy the family.”