QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Armed men have broken into the set of a public television channel in Ecuador as it broadcast live and threatened people as the country reels from a series of attacks after the government imposed a state of emergency in the wake of the apparent escape of a powerful gang leader from prison.
Men with their faces covered entered the set of the TC Television network in the port city of Guayaquil and shouted that they had bombs. Noises similar to gunshots could be heard in the background.
The channel broadcast live for at least 15 minutes before the signal was cut off. While the transmission was on, the men could be seen on camera while some employees laid down on the floor and someone was heard yelling “Don’t shoot!”
Ecuador’s Police said on X, formerly Twitter, that some units were deployed to the media facilities.
Hours earlier, Ecuadorian authorities had confirmed a series of attacks around the country, including explosions and the abduction of several police officers.
Police reported four officers were kidnapped on Monday night and remained missing, one in the capital, Quito, and three in Quevedo city.
Separately, agents arrested two people for possession of explosives and as suspects in at least one of the attacks in the South American country.
The government has not said how many attacks were registered in total, but local media reported several, including some in northern cities, where vehicles were set on fire, and others in Quito, including an explosion near the house of the president of the National Justice Court.
Authorities have not said who is thought to be behind the attacks or if the incidents are part an orchestrated action. The government has previously accused members of the main drug gangs for similar strikes. In recent years, Ecuador has been engulfed by a surge of violence tied to drug trafficking, including homicides and kidnappings.
Ecuadorian authorities reported Sunday that Adolfo Macías, alias “Fito” and the leader of Los Choneros gang, wasn’t in his cell in a low security prison. He was scheduled to be transferred to a maximum security facility that day.
His whereabouts were unclear.
Prosecutors opened an investigation and charged two guards in connection with the alleged escape, but neither the police, the corrections system, nor the federal government confirmed whether Macías fled the facility or might be hiding in it.
In February 2013, he escaped from a maximum security facility but was recaptured weeks later.
On Monday, President Daniel Noboa decreed a national state of emergency for 60 days, allowing the authorities to suspend rights and mobilize the military in places like prisons. The government also imposed a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Monday night.
Noboa said in a message on Instagram that he wouldn’t stop until he “brings back peace to all Ecuadorians,” and that his government had decided to confront crime.
States of emergency were widely used by Noboa’s predecessor, Guillermo Lasso, as a way to confront the wave of violence that has affected the country.
The wave of attacks began a few hours after Noboa’s announcement.
Macías, who was convicted of drug trafficking, murder and organized crime, was serving a 34-year sentence in La Regional prison in the port of Guayaquil.
Los Choneros is one of the Ecuadorian gangs authorities consider responsible for a spike in violence that reached a new level last year with the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio. The gang has links with Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, according to authorities.
Experts and authorities have acknowledged that gang members practically rule from inside the prisons, and Macías was believed to have continued controlling his group from within the detention facility.