In Ecuador39s war on gangs hundreds of soldiers crowd prison

In Ecuador's war on gangs, hundreds of soldiers crowd prison inmates and tie prisoners in their underwear as they take back control of the prison after the crime boss escapes

As part of the fight against gangs in Ecuador, hundreds of soldiers stormed a prison on Thursday and handcuffed inmates in their underwear. They took back control of the complex after the escape of the country's most wanted crime boss.

Authorities also arrested the suspected killer of a prosecutor who was shot dead in his car on Wednesday on the streets of the port city of Guayaquil, which has become a dangerous hub for cocaine exports from neighboring countries.

Police Commander General Cesar Zapata said on social media that two suspects had been arrested.

A rifle, two pistols and two cars were seized as “evidence,” he said.

Assassinated prosecutor Cesar Suarez was in charge of investigating last week's dramatic, live-streamed gangland attack on a state television studio, also in Guayaquil, which led to an ongoing crackdown on the gangs.

In Ecuador's war on gangs, hundreds of soldiers stormed a prison and handcuffed inmates in their underwear (pictured) on Thursday, taking back control of the Litoral prison complex after the escape of the country's most wanted crime boss

After Thursday's raid, the army released photos of handcuffed prisoners in their underwear lying face down in prison yards as soldiers stood guard (pictured)

After Thursday's raid, the army released photos of handcuffed prisoners in their underwear lying face down in prison yards as soldiers stood guard (pictured)

Hundreds of soldiers and police, accompanied by army trucks, streamed into a huge prison complex - the same one from which notorious crime boss Adolfo Macias, alias

Hundreds of soldiers and police, accompanied by army trucks, streamed into a huge prison complex – the same one from which notorious crime boss Adolfo Macias, alias “Fito”, leader of Los Choneros, escaped last week. The jailbreak triggered the government's crackdown

Dozens of prisoners lay on the prison floor in their underwear on Thursday

Dozens of prisoners lay on the prison floor in their underwear on Thursday

Meanwhile, hundreds of soldiers and police, accompanied by army trucks, streamed into a huge prison complex – the same one from which notorious crime boss Adolfo Macias, alias “Fito”, leader of Los Choneros, escaped last week.

The prison break at Litoral Penitentiary triggered a government crackdown and subsequent violent retaliation from criminal groups.

After Thursday's raid, the army released photos of handcuffed prisoners in their underwear lying face down in prison yards.

Similar images have been shared in recent days as the government tries to take back control of prisons from gangs.

Despite being incarcerated, Ecuadorian prisons have in recent years become strongholds for gang leaders to operate from.

According to Ecuadorian newspaper Primicias, Fito converted his prison cell in the complex into a “private bunker.”

From there, he allegedly controlled Los Choneros' criminal operations, including extortion and murder, according to the release.

Uniformed officers have “control of the exterior and interior of the prison complex” in Guayaquil, the army wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Ecuador, once considered a bastion of peace in Latin America, has plunged into crisis after years of expansion by transnational cartels that use its ports to transport drugs to the United States and Europe.

In response to Fito's escape, President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew.

Drug cartels responded quickly, threatening to execute civilians and security forces and taking hostage dozens of police and prison officers who have since been released.

An Army member guards the Regional 8 prison complex from a helicopter during an operation in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Jan. 18

An Army member guards the Regional 8 prison complex from a helicopter during an operation in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Jan. 18

Military vehicles were seen arriving at the prison on the Thursday before the operation

Military vehicles were seen arriving at the prison on the Thursday before the operation

Inmates are seen on a basketball court at Litoral Prison on Thursday

Inmates are seen on a basketball court at Litoral Prison on Thursday

On January 9, attackers stormed the television station, firing shots and forcing staff to lie on the floor as a woman pleaded: “Don't shoot, please don't shoot.”

After about 30 minutes of chaos, police entered the studio, defused the situation and arrested 13 attackers, many of them teenagers.

Noboa then declared the country a “state of war” and deployed thousands of soldiers and police to patrol the streets and hunt down gang members, drugs and weapons.

In the past nine days, they conducted more than 23,000 operations and arrested 2,174 people – 158 of whom were wanted for “terrorism,” the army said.

The explosion of violence comes weeks after Attorney General Diana Salazar announced an investigation showing ties between the gangs and powerful state officials, from judges to a former prison warden.

Salazar launched the “Metastasis” investigation following the prison death of powerful drug lord Leandro Norero in 2022.

Her team searched chats and call logs on his cellphone and found links to high-ranking officials who distributed favors in exchange for money, gold, prostitutes, apartments and other luxuries.

More than 900 people took part in the investigation, which resulted in more than 75 raids and dozens of arrests.

“The response to this operation will certainly be an escalation of violence,” she predicted in December.

Salazar said she had received death threats from the powerful Los Lobos (The Wolves) gang – whose boss Fabricio Colon also escaped from prison last week.

Those investigating the gangs have become targets.

Prosecutor Suarez had been investigating cases involving mafia infiltration of the justice system and corruption scandals related to the purchase of medical equipment during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In June last year, another prosecutor, Leonardo Palacios, was shot dead in the town of Duran, near Guayaquil, and in 2022, two prosecutors and a judge were shot dead in other parts of the country.

Anti-corruption, anti-cartel presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was killed by a barrage of automatic gunfire after a campaign speech just weeks before last year's election, which Noboa won.

Gangsters are spotted Tuesday after storming and taking over a television studio in Ecuador

Gangsters are spotted Tuesday after storming and taking over a television studio in Ecuador

Prison guards are seen being taken hostage by prisoners using machetes

Prison guards are seen being taken hostage by prisoners using machetes

Similar treatment of prisoners has been seen in recent years in El Salvador, where the country's president has locked up two percent of the country's adult population to crack down on suspected gang members.

Ecuadorian authorities attribute the unprecedented violence to a power vacuum caused by the December 2020 killing of Jorge Zambrano, alias “Rasquiña” or “JL,” the former leader of the Los Choneros cartel before Fito.

Since then, Los Choneros – now led by Fito – and the splinter groups Los Lobos and Los Tiguerones have been fighting for territory and control, including inside prison facilities, where at least 400 inmates have died in riots since 2021.

The gangs have ties to cartels from Colombia and Mexico, including the notorious New Generation Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels, which are also at war.