Gunmen have stormed a broadcast studio amid a wave of violence after the country’s president declared a state of emergency.
A TV news crew in Ecuador has been taken hostage by masked assailants who stormed the station’s studio during a broadcast, waving guns and explosives as a presenter pleaded for help.
The incident occurred on Tuesday afternoon amid a sudden and brutal nationwide wave of violence and kidnappings, after President Daniel Noboa declared a 60-day state of emergency to combat “narcoterrorists.”
Presidential spokesman Roberto Izurieta Canova later said on X (formerly Twitter) that “the vast majority” of the hostages has been rescued.
Police released a statement, saying several assailants have been detained.
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— Policía Ecuador (@PoliciaEcuador) January 9, 2024
Footage posted earlier on social media shows gunmen holding the broadcast crew hostage at the headquarters of TC Television, a major station in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil. One of the captives can be heard screaming, “Don’t shoot, please!”
Dozens of panicked TC TV staffers sent out social media messages begging for help and others hid as the gangsters charged through their building, according to a local newspaper report. “They want to kill us all. Help us please,” one of the messages said. Ecuador’s national police posted a message on X saying a special forces unit was being deployed to “deal with this emergency.”
The dramatic on-camera hostage incident came as the South American country descended into chaos, with kidnapping incidents reported at a university, a hospital, prisons, and police stations. Criminal groups have reportedly carried out coordinated attacks across the country, setting off explosives and taking hostages, including dozens of prison guards and at least seven police officers in three cities.
A video posted on social media shows one of the officers reading a message – directed to Noboa – as a gun was pointed at his head. “You declared war, you will get war,” he said. “You declared a state of emergency. We declare police, civilian and soldiers to be the spoils of war.”
Noboa, who campaigned on a promise to tackle violent crime and took office as president in November, declared the state of emergency on Monday. He blamed violent uprisings on drug-trafficking gangs that were trying to take revenge for his efforts to “regain control” of Ecuador’s prisons. Noboa announced plans last week to build two new maximum-security prisons for the country’s most dangerous criminals.
Adolfo Macias, a drug kingpin and convicted murderer who has been incarcerated since 2011, escaped on Sunday as police were preparing to transfer him to a higher-security prison. Another gang leader, Fabricio Colon, escaped during a prison uprising on Monday night. The national authorities have reported unrest at facilities in six provinces, with staffers taken hostage in some cases.
Noboa declared an internal armed conflict on Tuesday and identified several of the country’s gangs as terrorist organizations and “belligerent non-state actors.” He ordered Ecuador’s military to carry out operations to “neutralize these groups.”