A live television news broadcast was interrupted this week in Ecuador when more than a dozen armed men reportedly stormed the studio and began firing their weapons.
In a clip revealing the tense situation just before the television feed cut out, individuals with their faces covered and dressed in black could be heard shouting “no police,” apparently directing their comments to employees and viewers at home.
Reporter Leonardo Flores Moreno was in the building at the time of the armed intrusion.
“We were in a meeting and they alerted us and we were able to hide,” he said. “We don’t know what is happening. People are nervous; there are many colleagues … who are hiding.”
While early reports indicate at least one of the hostages was shot in the incident, police did not immediately confirm that claim. Authorities did state that officers were able to restore order and took 13 suspects into custody.
According to National Police Commander Cesar Zapata, a number of explosive devices — including two grenades — were found at the scene. He said investigators were treating the incident as a terrorist act.
The frightening scene played out against the backdrop of widespread gang violence, drug trafficking, prison breaks and other brazen criminal acts that sparked an emergency declaration by President Daniel Noboa earlier this week. His mandate provided for an increased military presence and a nationwide curfew as part of an effort to curb the violent crime.
Following a series of police kidnappings, Noboa also issued a decree designating nearly two dozen gangs as terrorist organizations.
Ecuadoran officials believe the spike in violence, possibly including the hostage incident at the television studio this week, was a direct response to plans for a new high-security prison specifically for convicted gang members.
Admiral Jaime Vela, who leads the armed forces joint command, explained: “They have created a wave of violence to frighten the populace.”
Reports indicate 39 prisoners managed to escape from a prison in Riobamba recently in what was believed to be a plot to target the nation’s attorney general. Dozens of prison guards have been held hostage in recent days and at least five hospitals have been the scene of similar armed takeovers.