In capturing Mr. Guzmán López on his home turf, the government dealt yet another blow to the Sinaloa cartel, which has struggled to regain its footing after the arrest and conviction of the elder Mr. Guzman, its longtime leader, known as El Chapo.
In its response, the cartel appeared to be sending a message of its own.
Though the gunmen appeared set on rescuing Mr. Guzmán López from federal custody, their efforts, successful or not, offered a harrowing glimpse at the power and impunity with which drug cartels operate in Mexico.
“In my 21 years of covering crime at the heart of drug world, this has been the worst shootout and the most horrible situation I have ever encountered,” said Ernesto Martínez, a local crime reporter who was caught in the middle of a gun battle only a few feet away from his vehicle.
Mr. Martínez had gone to report on a separate shooting when he ran into an army vehicle, which had stopped a car with individuals carrying machine guns. Suddenly, he said, the gunfire started and the soldiers yelled: “Everybody down, shootout!”
Mr. Martínez said he then noticed a white vehicle with masked men shooting at the soldiers. He was still recording video of the scene as he drove to the nearest gas station looking for shelter.
“The sound of the bullets was so strong I could almost smell the gunpowder,” he said.
The gunfight lasted for 20 minutes before another one erupted, he said. The second shootout lasted for almost four hours, he said, and continued late into Thursday.
Mr. Martínez said most of the confrontations took place in Tres Ríos, an upscale commercial and business district, but he said chaos reigned throughout the city with burned vehicles and houses and roadblocks in different locations, and gunshots being fired at government buildings, including the state attorney’s office.
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