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More than 100 prison guards held hostage in Ecuador amid state of emergency – ABC News

President Daniel Noboa said nationwide unrest is an “internal armed conflict.”

By Aicha El Hammar Castano and Kevin Shalvey

At least 125 prison guards and 14 administrative staffers were being held hostage in five prisons in Ecuador, as nationwide civil unrest continued in the wake of President Daniel Noboa’s declaring a state of emergency.

The guards and staffers were being held by inmates in detention facilities in Azuay, Cañar, Tungurahua, Cotopaxi and Napo, the Interior Ministry said.

Information about the hostages’ health was not immediately available, but there wasn’t yet an indication that any had been killed, said Adm. Jamie Vela, head of the Armed Forces Joint Command.

The hostage situation came amid widespread chaos and violence after Noboa declared a countrywide state of emergency on Monday.

Members of the Armed Forces frisk men during an operation to protect civil security in Quito, on Jan. 10, 2024.

Stringer/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s time to fight terrorist groups,” Noboa said in Spanish on social media on Wednesday. “We will return peace to the Ecuadorian people.”

Noboa, who was elected last fall, had promised the public he’d make security and economic issues his priorities.

His declaration of a state of emergency followed reports of a prison escape by José Adolfo Macías Villamar, known as “Fito,” an alleged leader of the Los Choneros gang, which is said to have ties to the Sinaloa cartel. He had been convicted on charges including drug trafficking and homicide in 2011 and was being held in a high-security prison in Guyaquil.

Law enforcement officials take position outside a house during an operation in which they claim to have detained a leader of the Los Lobos gang, in Ibarra, Ecuador, in this screengrab taken from a handout video released on Jan. 10, 2024.
Ecuador Comunicacion via Reuters

More than 3,000 police officers have been mobilized to arrest him, officials said.

Gunmen stormed a television station in Guayaquil, the most-populous city, during a live broadcast on Tuesday, taking the hosts hostage and calling for Noboa to end his crackdown on organized crime. The men who stormed TC Televisión, a state-owned network, were arrested after a standoff with police.

Noboa on Tuesday called the unrest an “internal armed conflict,” saying the perpetrators were “terrorists.” He deployed armed forces throughout the country to “establish control,” his office said in a post on X.

Members of the Armed Forces patrol a street during an operation to protect civil security in Quito, on Jan. 10, 2024.
Stringer/AFP via Getty Images

Raids were being carried out across the country, with alleged members of organized criminal gangs being detained as police dealt with violence, national and local law enforcement said Wednesday.

A man carrying a submachine gun, a rifle and two pistols was arrested as a suspect in a bombing of a police station in Huaquillas, the national police said.

Six men were arrested after a patrol car was bombed and three uniformed officers were taken hostage, the Interior Ministry said.

Twenty-two cartridges of explosion were found near a gas station, the national police said.

Admiral Jaime Vela Erazo, Ecuador’s Chief of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces, speaks during a press conference accompanied by Admiral Miguel Cordova, Commander of the Navy, and General Celiano Cevallos, Commander of the Air Force, in Quito, Ecuador, Jan. 10, 2024.
Karen Toro/Reuters

National police said 11 people were killed in Guayaquil on Tuesday.

As the country attempts to regain control of the prisons taken over by inmates, Noboa also confirmed that about 1,500 foreign inmates will be sent back to their countries. Transfers will start this week for Venezuela, Peru and Colombia, he said.

Noboa was scheduled to have a crisis meeting to try to impose a cell signal block in prisons, another attempt to try to put an end to the wave of violence.

At least 329 people have been arrested and 195 vehicles that were stolen have been taken back by Ecuadorian law enforcement officials, Vela, head of the Joint Command, said Wednesday evening.

Forty-one people who had been taken hostage were rescued, he said.

“The security block we formed since the beginning is giving results and we will keep this way — united,” he said. “We will remain unified because this is the only way, with unity, cooperation, and sacrifice that we will push forward our country.”

ABC News’ Will Gretsky and Ellie Kaufman contributed to this story.

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