RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A frightening scene unfolded in the Sinaloa region of Mexico yesterday - armed gunmen went on a shooting rampage throughout the streets, sending residents running for cover. The shooting began after military troops encountered one of the sons of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. He's the drug kingpin and former head of the Sinaloa cartel. And he is now serving time in a U.S. prison. The president of Mexico took questions this morning about what happened and the Mexican government's response.
We're joined now by NPR's Carrie Kahn. She's been following the story. And we do want to warn listeners, the conversation is going to include audio from a gunfight and some graphic descriptions. Carrie, we're going to get to what the president had to say in a moment, but can you just explain what we know happened yesterday in Sinaloa?
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The head of Mexico's public security broadcast a short statement late last night. And he said that 30 military officers were on a routine patrol in the capital city of Sinaloa, Culiacan, and they came under fire from gunmen holed up in a house.
The military was able to take control of the house, he said, and inside is where they found the 28-year-old son of Chapo Guzman. And shortly after that, he said, though, officers were overwhelmed by cartel gunmen and, in his words, decided to suspend the operations.
Today, in his morning press conference, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the military had an arrest warrant for Guzman with plans to extradite him to the U.S. He is facing cocaine trafficking charges in the U.S. that were laid out in an indictment unsealed earlier this year.
MARTIN: So what happened? Mexican authorities had the younger Guzman in custody, and then they just let him go?
KAHN: Yes. It's quite incredible. What happened, it appears - and, of course, we'll get more details today as this story unfolds - but at the same time the military came under fire at this house with Guzman inside, cartel gunmen unleashed a horrific level of firepower, violence and terror throughout different points in the city.
There were gun battles on major thoroughfares. Vehicles were set on fire at strategic points in the city to block security forces from coming in. Social media was full of videos of this terror. Listen to this one battle caught on camera by a local police reporter.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)
KAHN: Citizens were just running for cover in shopping centers and supermarket aisles. There was one video that was just incredible, Rachel. It was of a gunman in a pickup truck going through the city, operating what looked like a 50-caliber machine gun bolted to the back.
MARTIN: Oh, my gosh.
KAHN: It was terrifying. It went on for hours. And the decision was made to let Guzman go to restore the peace. That is what the president said this morning.
MARTIN: How does that keep the peace - letting this guy go?
KAHN: He says it was the right thing to do. He didn't want to see a massacre. And, as he has always said, you can't fight violence with violence. He repeatedly says that he's attacking the root cause of violence - that is his strategy - ending poverty and corruption in Mexico. That's the right course. He likes to say he believes in hugs, not bullets.
MARTIN: But does that mean that criminals aren't held accountable? I mean, what did he say about the message it's sending to organized crime - if they have enough firepower, they win?
KAHN: He dismissed such criticism, like he always does. That is the obvious question. And he said criticism like that is just attacks from his enemies - conservatives in the country. And he was quite harsh this morning with any reporters asking such probing questions. And he's done that in the past.
He called reporters that questioned him working for the opposition. He even chuckled several times, as ridicule, during his press conference at questions like that. And he says what happened in Culiacan is an unfortunate event, but does not mean that a strategy to stem violence is not working.
MARTIN: NPR's Carrie Kahn for us from Mexico City covering this. Thank you.
KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.