President Guillermo Lasso issued a state of emergency declaration for Guayaquil Sunday following a massive explosion that left at least five people dead, 26 injured and several others missing. Calling the attack “an act of terrorism committed by criminal gangs,” the president said the government must act forcefully to stop gangs intent on controlling the city.
On its Twitter account, Ecuador’s Prosecutor’s Office said its agents were gathering evidence to establish the cause and motive for the attack in Guayaquil’s Cristo del Consuelo neighborhood although early indications suggest it is drug-related.
The explosion damaged structures within a 100-meter radius and police say the destructive device used in the attack was loaded with shrapnel, which caused many of the injuries.
Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo tweeted that organized crime in Ecuador is now attacking with explosives. “This tragedy is a declaration of war against the state by Illegal drug traffickers and we must respond with force,” he said. “Either we unite to face it or the price will be even higher for society,” he wrote.
Guayaquil, has seen frequent shootings and killings by members of rival gangs believed to have links to national and international drug cartels. Dozens have died during the last year in massacres inside the largest state prison in the city.
According to police, three of the dead are men and two are women. They say at least ten of the injured are in critical condition.
“It’s not clear if the diseased were the targets of the attack or were simply in the area,” prosecutors say. “If this was a planned attack the purpose may be to instill fear in the neighborhood, which is known as a center of drug activity.”
Carrillo said he expected the death toll to rise. “The terrible fact is that several of the severely injured may succumb. We hope and pray for the best outcomes but must be realistic. The criminals who committed this deed wanted to kill people.”
Sunday’s state of emergency declaration is the third issued for Guayaquil in the past year, all related to suspected illegal drug activity. In a statement, Lasso said there have been 58 “terrorist attacks” in Guayaquil in the past 12 months. “This one is the worst,” he added.