Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador defended local authorities' decision to call off a deadly raid in Sinaloa Cartel territory and release Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's fugitive son, saying one criminal wasn't worth risking the lives of others in the area.
"They made decisions that I support, that I endorse, because the situation became very difficult and many citizens, many people, many human beings, were at risk. And, it was decided to protect people's lives. I agreed with that because it's not about massacres -- that is over," Obrador said during a news conference Friday. "They (local authorities) took that decision and I supported it."
A deadly gunfight erupted in the Mexican city of Culiacán, Sinaloa state, late Thursday afternoon, after cartel fighters attacked security forces who were trying to arrest Ovidio Guzmán López, one of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's sons. Guzman Lopez is wanted in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges, according to reports.
"El Chapo" Guzman was sentenced to life behind bars in the U.S. in July, after he was found responsible for violence, including murders, and the smuggling of narcotics into the U.S., by a New York jury.
In a statement Friday that criticized the police effort, calling it "rushed and badly planned," the Mexican Security Cabinet said that about 30 to 35 members of the National Guard and the Mexican Army were patrolling in the capital of Mexico's Sinaloa state Thursday around 3:45 p.m. Mexico City time, when they were fired on from a house. The security cabinet said the group was waiting for a search warrant for the home when the gunfire began.
Officers fired back and were able to enter the house, where they found Guzman Lopez inside, the cabinet said.
Mexican security and citizen protection secretary Alfonso Durazo said gunmen immediately surrounded the house from other organized crime organizations that had "a greater force" than the police, according to The Associated Press.
Authorities said Thursday that while officers in the home were under siege, other "organized crime groups" attacked residents in other parts of Culiacan, "generating a situation of panic."
Video posted online from the city showed children hiding with their parents behind cars waiting for the gunfire to stop and terrified residents abandoned their cars on the streets and ran as shooting sounded behind them. Images showed the skies above Culiacan darkened with smoke from burning vehicles.
At least eight people were killed and at least 16 were injured, according to El Universal newspaper.
Mexico's Security Cabinet said Friday that after seeing the violence raging, authorities ordered the team to leave the house. Afterward, the criminal group stopped the assaults and freed the Army personnel that had been held, the security cabinet said Friday.
Police suspended the operation between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Mexico City time. There was no formal arrest of Guzman Lopez, authorities said.
The security cabinet said that one civilian had been killed in the shootout. There had also been "19 roadblocks; 14 gun attacks against the Mexican Army and the National Guard; seven members injured; and nine members detained by the cartel [but] then freed without injuries," the cabinet said Friday.
A state police officer and two municipal police officers had also been injured and eight vehicles and one helicopter were hit by firearms.
"This decision was made to protect citizens. You can't fight fire with fire. That's the difference with this strategy compared with what previous governments have done. We don't want deaths. We don't want war," Mexico's president said Friday. "The strategy that had been applied turned the country into a cemetery and that’s not what we want anymore."
Lopez is not one of "El Chapo" Guzman's more infamous sons Iván Archivaldo and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán, who the AP said are known as "los Chapitos" or "the little Chapos."