Ecuador declares emergency after 5 police officers gunned down, several wounded

The Guayas 1 prison is one of the main scenes of a series of prison massacres that have left about 400 inmates dead since February 2021



Photos: Reuters
Photos: Reuters

By AFP

Published: Wed 2 Nov 2022, 8:15 AM

On Tuesday, five police officers were killed, several more were wounded, and prison guards were taken hostage in the latest wave of attacks of a deadly gang war consuming Ecuador, authorities said.

President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of exception and nightly curfew in two coastal provinces — Guayas and Esmeraldas. The move allows the government to limit freedom of assembly and movement there.

Officials said organised crime groups launched nine attacks with explosives and firearms against police and oil installations, in response to a transfer of inmates from Guayas 1 prison.

The prison, situated in the southwestern port city of Guayaquil, is one of the main scenes of a series of prison massacres that have left about 400 inmates dead since February 2021.

"We have had reactions [of] organised crime" in Guayaquil and in the northwestern oil port of Esmeraldas, Interior Minister Juan Zapata told reporters in the capital, Quito.

These included car bomb attacks, as well as a bombing at a bus terminal.

In the early morning hours, two police officers died when their patrol car was attacked by people with firearms in Guayaquil, according to police.

Three more officers were gunned down later in the day in the port and the nearby city of Duran, police said.

A separate attack on a police station there left two officers injured.

In Esmeraldas — the same city where two headless bodies were found hanging from a pedestrian bridge on Monday — inmates took eight guards hostage, according to the SNAI prison authority.

All were later freed, it said, without giving details about the guards' condition.

The SNAI had earlier announced on Twitter that it was moving about 200 inmates from Guayas 1. It said the transfers were necessitated by required maintenance to cell blocks.

However, according to an unconfirmed hostage video, the move was the reason for the events at Esmeraldas.

"Given the events in Esmeraldas and GYE (Guayaquil), we activated our tactical and investigative units to maintain order and find the perpetrators," the police said on Twitter.

Once a relatively peaceful neighbour of Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has seen a wave of violent crime that authorities blame on turf battles between rival drug gangs believed to have ties to Mexican cartels.

Hundreds of inmates have been killed — many beheaded or incinerated — as the fighting spills into Ecuador's hugely over-populated prisons.

Civilians have increasingly been caught up in the bloodshed, which has included a spate of car bombs.

The violence has claimed 61 police lives since last year.

Ecuador has gone from being a drug transit route in recent years to an important distribution centre in its own right, with the United States and Europe the main destinations.

The murder rate in Ecuador nearly doubled in 2021 to 14 per 100,000 inhabitants, and reached 18 per 100,000 between January and October this year.

In 2021, law enforcement seized a record 210 tons of drugs (mostly cocaine). This year's seizures total 160 tons so far.

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