'El Chapo': Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman escapes from prison through 1.5km tunnel from his shower

El Chapo's Sinaloa cartel is known for building elaborate tunnels underneath the US-Mexico border

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The Independent US

A top Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped from a maximum security prison on Saturday night through a 1.5km tunnel that opened into his shower, officials announced.

Guzman had managed to oversee the construction of an elaborate, ventilated tunnel that connected his Altiplano prison cell to freedom.

Eighteen employees from various part of the Altiplano prison 90 kilometres west of Mexico City have been taken in for questioning, Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said in a news conference without answering questions.

He is known for the elaborate tunnels his ring, the Sinaloa cartel, has built underneath the Mexico-US border to transport cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana, with ventilation, lighting and even railcars to easily move products.

Guzman was last seen going into his shower at 9pm when sometime after guards noticed they had not seen him in a while, so entered the room but found it was empty.

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Guzman after being captured by the Mexican army in 2014

A huge manhunt followed immediately, with police combing the surrounding area. Flights were suspended at Toluca airport near the prison. Civil aviation hangers were being searched on Sunday and helicopters deployed to assist the effort.

Guzman was the leader of the Sinaloa cartel which is known for smuggling large amounts of illegal drugs into the US. He was on the US's most wanted list and one of the .

It is the second time that he has escaped from prison. He was put back behind bars in February 2014 after a decade on the run, a move hailed as a victory for Mexico’s government.

Guzman had been caught previously in Guatemala in 1993, extradited and sentenced to 20 years in prison in Mexico for murder and drug trafficking. He escaped from another maximum security prison, Puente Grande in western Jalisco state, in 2001 with the help of prison guards.

The Sinaloa Cartel empire stretches throughout North America and reaches as far away as Europe and Australia.

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Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman used a 1.5km tunnel system to escape (AFP/Getty)

The country is in the throes of a violent drug war, at the centre of which lies Guzman's cartel. At least 60,000 people are thought to have died between 2006 and 2012 alone as a result of clashing cartels.

Sinaloa is believed now to control most of the major crossing points for drugs at the US border with Mexico.

Altiplano, which is considered the main and most secure of Mexico's federal prisons, also houses Zetas drug cartel leader Miguel Angel Trevino, and Edgar Valdes Villarreal, known as “La Barbie,” of the Beltran Leyva cartel.

Additional reporting Press Association

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