(CN) — Eight people were killed in gun battles in the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacan, Mexico, in what Mexican officials described Friday as a failed operation to arrest the son of imprisoned Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
One civilian and one member of the National Guard were among the fatalities, along five attackers and one prisoner, federal security officials said in a Friday news conference.
All told, 27 inmates escaped a prison during the violence, and 21 people were wounded, state security officials reported.
Officials had initially portrayed the attempt to detain El Chapo’s son, Ovidio Guzmán López, as unexpected, saying he was discovered in a house by officers on patrol, and that gunfire from the house erupted.
As an all-out gun battle broke out on the streets Sinaloa, the cartel’s bastion, officials admitted Friday that they had undertaken an operation specifically intended to arrest Ovidio Guzmán on a warrant issued by a judge for extradition to the United States.
“It was a badly planned strategy,” Mexico’s defense minister Luis Sandoval said Friday at a news conference in Culiacan, adding that Ovidio Guzman was never “formally detained.”
“The task force acted too hastily. (The operation) wasn’t improvised, there was planning, but… it takes time to obtain an arrest warrant. When the operation was already under way, they decided to improvise and attempt to” get a warrant and arrest Guzman, he said.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador backed the decision to end the carnage in the city of 750,000 by releasing Ovidio Guzmán.
“The capture of one criminal cannot be worth more than the lives of people,” López Obrador said.
“This decision was made to protect citizens. … You cannot fight fire with fire,” he added. “We do not want deaths. We do not want war.”
Ovidio Guzman is one of several sons of El Chapo to have taken control of the Sinaloa cartel since their father’s extradition to the United States and subsequent conviction.
Agence France-Presse and The Associated Press contributed to this story.