Ecuador TV station stormed by gunmen, president declares state of conflict

QUITO, Ecuador — Armed, hooded men attacked an Ecuadorian television station during a live broadcast on Tuesday, forcing terrified staff onto the floor, as the country’s new president declared a state of armed conflict.

“Tell them we have bombs,” one voice could be heard saying, as armed men held up explosive devices in front of the cameras at the public TC Televisión station in Guayaquil.

Gunshots could be heard in the background, though police said no one was injured. Security forces detained about 10 of the alleged assailants, some of whom appeared to be members of the powerful gangs Los Tiguerones and Los Lobos, senior intelligence officials told The Washington Post.

The TV station takeover was one of several attacks across the country in a period of 24 hours, police said, including about 30 car explosions and the kidnapping of seven police officers. Riots have also broken out at several prisons, with reports that dozens of guards have been held by armed men.

The attacks appeared to be coordinated, intelligence officials told The Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details.

Two intelligence officials, from the police and the armed forces, told The Post they believed the operation was orchestrated by the gang Los Lobos — and may have been intended as a message to a government that has been planning to transfer top gang leaders to maximum-security prison wards.

On Monday, President Daniel Noboa had declared a state of emergency after a top gang leader escaped from a prison. In his Tuesday decree, Noboa directed the military to intervene in the escalating crisis and declared several gangs as terrorists.

As chaos consumed Guayaquil, the presidential complex in the historic center of Quito, the capital, was evacuated.

So far, no deaths or injuries have been reported, leaving the impression that Tuesday’s attacks were primarily intended to stoke fear.

Intelligence analysts said the attacks may have been triggered at least in part by a recent investigation into links between drug traffickers, criminal gangs and political operators, an operation known as Metastasis. About two dozen top security officials and judges were arrested last month for alleged criminal activity benefiting drug traffickers.

Ecuador has faced a historic wave of violence in recent years, as the country has become a critical cocaine transit point and gangs compete for control of drug routes and prisons. Noboa was sworn into office late last year, promising to bring control to the country after a deadly election cycle: Fernando Villavicencio, who was running for president on promises to crack down on links between criminals and politicians, was assassinated as he was leaving a campaign rally days before the first round of voting. Seven suspects in his killing were later found dead in prison.

The declaration of a state of emergency, a tool frequently used by Noboa’s predecessor, came after the prison escape of José Adolfo “Fito” Macías Villamar, a convicted murderer and head of Los Choneros, a powerful gang that reportedly partners with the Sinaloa Cartel to move cocaine to the United States.

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