Ecuadorian security forces have arrested 859 suspects in the fight against criminal gangs. Firearms, ammunition, explosives, incendiary devices, boats and vehicles were also seized in operations across the country, the government said. In addition, soldiers and police officers freed 56 hostages from gang violence. Five suspected gang members and two police officers were killed in clashes. The security forces also arrested 25 escaped prisoners.
After gunmen stormed a studio of the state television station TC Televisión during a live news broadcast on Tuesday and took numerous hostages, the government sent the armed forces into the fight against the gangs. President Daniel Noboa declared by decree that Ecuador was in an internal armed conflict. He declared 22 criminal groups to be terrorist organizations and non-state warring parties that must be eliminated.
The security situation in Ecuador had recently deteriorated dramatically. The murder rate of 46.5 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants last year was the highest in the history of the once peaceful Andean nation and one of the highest in Latin America. Multiple gangs with ties to powerful Mexican cartels are fighting for control of drug trafficking routes. Ecuador is a major transit country for cocaine from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia that is smuggled to the United States and Europe.