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Members of the Mexican Army and National Guard secure the main entrance to the maximum security prison of 'El Altiplano' in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on Jan. 6. Ten soldiers and 19 suspected criminals were killed in an operation to arrest a son of jailed drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, Mexico's government said Friday, with a dramatic shootout sowing terror at an airport.NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images

An explosion of gang violence following the arrest of accused drug lord Ovidio Guzman Lopez in Mexico is threatening to overshadow next week’s Three Amigos summit by putting the host country’s security crisis at the centre of a gathering meant to focus on migration and trade.

The Thursday arrest of Mr. Guzman, son of infamous Mexican narcotics kingpin Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman Loera, sparked gunfights between gangsters and government security forces that left at least 29 people dead in the state of Sinaloa, a popular destination for Canadian holidaymakers and expats.

The move was an about-face for the government of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who had previously argued that fighting the country’s drug cartels militarily was not working. In 2019, Mr. Lopez Obrador, widely referred to in Mexico as “AMLO,” after his initials, backed the release of the younger Mr. Guzman after a previous arrest in an effort to stop retaliation by cartel supporters. The elder Mr. Guzman is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison after a 2016 arrest.

Many in Mexico viewed Mr. Lopez Obrador’s apparent change of heart as a bid to show U.S. President Joe Biden that Mexico is willing to take action against criminal gangs. If so, it may have backfired by triggering the bloodshed Mexico’s President had been trying to avoid.

At his daily news conference Friday, Mr. Lopez Obrador denied there was any connection between the arrest and the upcoming summit, which will be the latest in a series of periodic gatherings of the leaders of Mexico, Canada and the United States. He said U.S. authorities played no role in the police operation.

“About the interpretations, there are many. We do not share them. We act with autonomy,” he said.

Mr. Lopez Obrador confirmed that the U.S. has requested Mr. Guzman’s extradition so that he can face accusations of drug trafficking. But the Mexican President said it would be up to his own country’s courts to decide whether there was enough evidence to proceed. Mexican authorities have said they had Mr. Guzman under surveillance for six months, and that he was wanted for fuelling a fentanyl crisis in northern Mexico.

Some observers were unconvinced that the arrest had nothing to do with the summit.

“This was done to show Biden Mexico is serious about capturing people who are on the FBI most-wanted list,” said Andres Rozental Gutman, a former high-ranking Mexican diplomat and foreign affairs official. “To some extent, it was propaganda for the meeting next week.”

U.S. intelligence has played a role in previous cartel-related arrests, helping Mexican authorities track down criminal leaders.

The meetings between Mr. Lopez Obrador, Mr. Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are scheduled to take place early next week at the National Palace in Mexico City. At the top of the agenda for Mr. Biden is securing Mexican help with stemming the flow of asylum seekers from Latin America and the Caribbean trying to reach the U.S.

The Mexican government, meanwhile, is angling to use the summit to strengthen trade ties within North America as a counterweight to China.

A spokesperson for Mr. Trudeau, Ann-Clara Vaillancourt, said the Prime Minister’s Office is “closely monitoring the situation” in Sinaloa, but would not say if or how the matter would be addressed at the summit.

Following Mr. Guzman’s arrest in Culiacan, the state capital, his henchmen opened fire at the local airport, set up roadblocks around the city and set fire to vehicles in several cities. The Mexican military fought back with a helicopter and machine guns, killing 19 gang members and losing 10 of their own soldiers.

At least one group of Canadian tourists was trapped in a hotel in Mazatlan, The Canadian Press reported, after someone torched the buses that were supposed to take them to the airport.

Authorities shut down the airports in Culiacan, Mazatlan and Los Mochis Thursday after gunfire hit an Aeromexico plane as it prepared to take off from Culiacan. No one was injured on the plane, and the Culiacan and Mazatlan airports reopened on Friday.

“The city asked us to stay in,” said Jozefina Grabic, from Vancouver, who is holidaying in Mazatlan with a friend. They are staying in an Airbnb and plan to spend two more weeks in the area.

“We feel okay,” she said, adding that they are monitoring the news in case the fighting gets closer.

“We were advised by officials to stay home for our safety,” said Paul Garon, who is spending the winter in Mazatlan with his wife.

The Edmontonians have seen “a lot of the national guards for the last few days,” he said, adding that “Mexican officials are taking great strides to protect us.”

Both Ms. Grabic and Mr. Garon said shops and restaurants closed on Thursday, but that things started getting back to normal by Friday.

Charlotte MacLeod, a spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada, said Canadians in Sinaloa should “limit movements and shelter in place if possible” and “not attempt to cross road blockades.”

“The Government of Canada advises all Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel to various regions of Mexico,” she wrote in an e-mail.

WestJet spokeswoman Denise Kenny said the airline has cancelled flights to and from Mazatlan’s airport. Sunwing said its flights to Mazatlan have been cancelled, and that return flights were “impacted by further delays.” Air Canada and Air Transat both said their operations were not affected.

Fernando Belaunzaran Mendez, a former Mexican legislator and critic of Mr. Lopez Obrador, said it was still unclear whether this week’s arrest was a one-off or the start of a wholesale change of policy for the President.

When he was elected in 2018, Mr. Lopez Obrador promised to end Mexico’s policy of using the military to fight the cartels, widely blamed for making the situation worse by triggering relentless violence. At the time, the President promised “hugs, not bullets” in combatting crime.

“Lopez Obrador may have thought that not fighting against them could reinstate peace. What happened yesterday is a rupture with this position. But we still have to see what will happen,” Mr. Belaunzaran said.

Regardless of any connection to the Three Amigos, he said, the decision had clearly helped the U.S. achieve one of its goals in its relationship with Mexico.

“They are obtaining what they want,” he said. “Which seems to be fighting against crime.”