Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was transferred Saturday to a prison near the U.S. border, multiple media outlets reported.
Mexican authorities moved Guzman, who twice made daring escapes from Mexican prisons, to a facility in Cuidad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.
A security official who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity did not explain why Guzman was transferred from a maximum-security facility near Mexico City. Jose Refugio Rodriguez, an attorney for Guzman, said Mexican authorities did not notify his defense team.
“I don’t know what the strategy is,” Refugio told the AP. “I can’t say what the government is thinking.”
Guzman’s lawyers are fighting an attempt to extradite him to the United States, where he faces multiple charges.
Mexican government officials said later Saturday that the transfer was because of security upgrades being made at the prison where he was previously held. They told Reuters it was not a step toward extradition.
A government statement says more 7,400 inmates across Mexico have been rotated from federal prison as part of a security strategy implemented since September.
A retired DEA agent told the El Paso Times, a member of the USA TODAY Network, that he isn’t buying it.
“I am sure that the U.S. authorities are looking forward to extraditing him to the U.S. and the fact that he is in Juarez is a very clear sign that extraction” is more of a possibility, said Gilbert S. Gonzalez, who worked for the DEA for more than 24 years and is now executive director of the Texas Narcotic Officers Association. “I don’t buy it, because the prison Cefereso in Juarez is not exactly a maximum security facility, especially to house someone of Chapo Guzman’s reputation and propensity for violence.”
Guzman, the notorious kingpin of the Sinaloa drug cartel, first escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001 and wasn’t captured until 2014. He escaped again the next year through a mile-long tunnel dug from under his cell and then was recaptured again in January, memorably with the aid of actor Sean Penn.
Penn met with him in a Mexican jungle after Guzman sought out actors and producers for a movie about El Chapo’s life. The meeting helped authorities track the drug lord to his hiding place.
Guzman returned to the Altipano jail near Mexico City, where he had pulled off his second jailbreak. This time around, officials placed him under 24/7 video surveillance and reinforced cell floors with metal bars and a 16-inch layer of concrete. It was not immediately clear if his new prison has similar safeguards