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Prisoners seize over 50 officials after car bombs strike Ecuador capital

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Policemen inspect the wreckage of a car after it exploded in Quito on August 31, 2023. — AFP
Policemen inspect the wreckage of a car after it exploded in Quito on August 31, 2023. — AFP

At least 57 prison guards and police personnel were taken hostage by convicts in six prisons after grenade assaults and two vehicle bombings attacked Ecuador’s capital Quito on Thursday night, according to officials.

The prison rebellion was thought to be a response to a police sweep of jails the day before to seize firearms. The wave of attacks was an apparent show of force by organised crime organisations, but no victims were reported.

The SNAI prison authority was the target of the vehicle bombs; one went off outside its headquarters and the other outside a structure where SNAI offices once stood.

Hours later, according to SNAI, inmates in six prisons around the nation had managed to capture seven police officers and 50 prison guards, AFP reported.

A burned car is seen in front of the headquarters of the agency in charge of managing prisons (SNAI) on August 31, 2023 in Quito, Ecuador. — AFP
A burned car is seen in front of the headquarters of the agency in charge of managing prisons (SNAI) on August 31, 2023 in Quito, Ecuador. — AFP

“We are concerned about the safety of our officials,” said Interior Minister Juan Zapata at a press conference in the capital Quito.

The country, until a few years ago a peaceful haven nestled between the world’s largest cocaine producers — Colombia and Peru — has recently descended into violence as it has itself become a hub for drug trafficking.

Ecuador’s prisons have been the location of massacres by rival gangs with links to Colombian and Mexican cartels that have led to more than 430 inmate deaths since 2021, often leaving a trail of burned and dismembered bodies.

The police’s anti-drug investigations boss, General Pablo Ramirez, told reporters one of the rigged cars, a sedan, had been loaded with “two gas cylinders with fuel, a slow fuse and apparently dynamite sticks.”

Firefighters who rushed to the scene revealed that no one was hurt in the incident.

Quito Mayor Pabel Munoz said the night also saw three grenade explosions in the city. Six people, including a Colombian national, were arrested near the scene of one of these explosions, according to Ramirez.

All have a criminal history of extortion, robbery and murder, he said.

“Three of them were arrested 15 days ago for the theft of a truck and extortive kidnappings… and were released” under conditions, Ramirez said.

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