At least 10 killed in Ecuador's 'internal armed conflict'

President Noboa orders military operations to 'neutralise' criminal gangs after gangsters declared war following prison escape of one of the country's most powerful narco bosses

By AFP

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People is helped out of the premises of Ecuador's TC television channel after unidentified gunmen burst into the state-owned television studio live on air on January 9, 2024, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, a day after Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency following the escape from prison of a dangerous narco boss.— AFP
People is helped out of the premises of Ecuador's TC television channel after unidentified gunmen burst into the state-owned television studio live on air on January 9, 2024, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, a day after Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency following the escape from prison of a dangerous narco boss.— AFP

Published: Wed 10 Jan 2024, 2:22 PM

Last updated: Wed 10 Jan 2024, 2:23 PM

Ecuador's president gave orders on Tuesday to "neutralise" criminal gangs after gunmen opened fire in a TV studio and bandits threatened random executions on a second day of terror in the country.

At least 10 people have been killed in a series of attacks blamed on gangs as the country exploded in what President Daniel Noboa called an "internal armed conflict".

He ordered military operations to "neutralize" criminal gangs after gangsters declared war following the prison escape Sunday of one of Ecuador's most powerful narco bosses.

Eight people were killed and three were wounded in attacks in the port city of Guayaquil, and two officers were "viciously murdered by armed criminals" in the nearby town of Nobol, police said Tuesday evening.

Long a peaceful haven sandwiched between top cocaine exporters Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has seen violence explode in recent years as rival gangs with links to Mexican and Colombian cartels vie for control.

After the escape of Jose Adolfo Macias, aka "Fito" -- leader of Ecuador's biggest gang Los Choneros -- Noboa on Monday declared a countrywide state of emergency and nightly curfew.

Gangs retaliated, taking police officers hostage, setting off explosions in several cities and on Tuesday storming a studio of state-owned TC Television in Guayaquil with guns and explosives.

Hooded attackers fired gunshots during a live TC broadcast as a woman could be heard pleading: "Don't shoot, please don't shoot."

People are helped out of the premises of Ecuador's TC television channel after unidentified gunmen burst into the state-owned television studio live on air on January 9, 2024, in Guayaquil, Ecuador. — AFP
People are helped out of the premises of Ecuador's TC television channel after unidentified gunmen burst into the state-owned television studio live on air on January 9, 2024, in Guayaquil, Ecuador. — AFP

The intruders forced terrified crew onto the ground and a person could be heard screaming as the studio lights went out but the broadcast continued.

Police entered the studio after about 30 minutes of chaos.

Noboa, 36, who was elected last year on a pledge to fight drug-related violence, later ordered the military operations against gangs he described as "terrorist organizations and belligerent non-state actors."

Authorities reported multiple explosions and cars set alight on Tuesday, including in the capital Quito, and said seven police officers had been kidnapped.

A video circulating on social media showed three of the kidnapped officers sitting on the ground with a gun pointed at them as one was forced to read a statement addressed to Noboa.

"You declared war, you will get war," the visibly terrified officer read.

"You declared a state of emergency. We declare police, civilians and soldiers to be the spoils of war."

The statement added that anyone found on the street after 11:00 pm "will be executed."

There was panic on the streets, with shops and businesses in various cities closing early and residents rushing home as face-to-face classes were suspended nationwide until Friday.

Brian Nichols, the top US diplomat for Latin America, said Washington was "extremely concerned" by the violence and kidnappings, and pledged to provide assistance and "remain in close contact" with Noboa's team.

Peru on Tuesday put its border with Ecuador under a state of emergency.

China's embassy and consulates in Ecuador announced on Wednesday that services to the public were suspended.

"The reopening to the public will be announced in due course," the embassy said in a statement shared on Chinese social media.

Chile, Colombia and Brazil sent messages of support for Noboa on Tuesday.

A manhunt is under way for Fito, who had been serving a 34-year sentence for organized crime, drug trafficking and murder.

The 44-year-old is believed to have escaped just hours before police arrived to conduct an inspection of the Guayaquil prison where he was held.

On Tuesday, officials said another narco boss -- Los Lobos leader Fabricio Colon Pico -- also escaped since his arrest last Friday for alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate Ecuador's attorney general.

Unrest has broken out at several penitentiaries, and on Tuesday the SNAI prisons authority said 125 guards and 14 administrative officers were being held by inmates in five cities.

Unverified videos circulating on social media purported to show captives armed with knives executing at least two guards.

The SNAI has not commented on the images.

The security forces in turn have sent out videos of numerous prison raids since Sunday, with hundreds of inmates amassed in courtyards in their underwear, hands on their heads.

Noboa had vowed on Monday to "not negotiate with terrorists nor rest until we return peace to all Ecuadorans."

Drug violence has taken a heavy toll on the South American country since it became a key stop on the US- and Europe-bound cocaine trade.

The murder rate quadrupled from 2018 to 2022 and a record 220 tons of drugs were seized last year.

Since February 2021, clashes between prisoners have left more than 460 dead, many beheaded or burnt alive.


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