Following day of bombings and confusion, unofficial sources say Turi hostages have been released
Two news websites reported Thursday night that hostages at the Turi prison had been released. As of early Friday morning, however, there was no government confirmation.
Red Informativa reported that 15 guards and five policemen had been released while Código Vidrio said 50 guards and seven police officers walked out a side entrance of the prison to freedom. Código claimed its information was provided “unofficially” by General Pablo Ramírez, Director of Ecuador’s Intelligence Directorate.
Neither Red Informativa or Código Vidrio said whether the hostages released represented all of those being held.
A separate social media post claimed that the prison cooks had been released and, as a result, hostages and prisoners were going hungry.
Reports of the releases followed a day of two car bombings in Quito, one at the headquarters of the national prison administration, and new information suggesting the hostage situation at Turi is part of nationwide uprising by criminal gangs to control the prisons. Secretary of Public Security Wagner Bravo suggested the hostage situation could be related to the relocation from a Quito prison of the suspects in the assassination of Fernando Villavicencio.
Late Thursday, police said that two explosions in Cuenca could be associated to the Quito bombings and the situation at Turi. One device was set off at a bridge on Av. Ordóñez Lasso, near Sayausí, causing minor damage, while another destroyed the interior of an SUV on Calle Río Upano in Totoracocha. Police said the detonations were smaller than those in Quito but large enough to cause personal injury.
In addition to the blasts in Quito and Cuenca, two other car bombs exploded Thursday night in El Oro Province and a juvenile detention center in Quito was set on fire.
In a morning news conference, Interior Minister Juan Zapata said the situation at Turi was not an isolated event. “This is part of a coordinated attack by criminal elements on the prison system,” he said. “In particular, the gangs are upset by law enforcement sweeps of prisons for weapons and contraband and for the relocation of gang leaders to new locations. In effect, the gangs have declared war on the state.”
Zapata added: “While we face a crisis at Turi and other facilities, what is happening shows that our efforts are working. We are breaking down the lines of authority and communication between the gangs and their members within the prisons.”
At the news conference, Bravo added that the decision to move the six suspects in the Villavicencio murder was based on a concern for their lives. “We had information that they would be killed by gang members in the Cotopaxi prison to keep them quiet about the assassination since they are cooperating with investigators,” he said. He said the suspects had been taken to La Roca prison in Guayaquil, the country’s highest security prison.
While government officials were meeting in Quito, sharp criticism of the national prison administration was mounting for not releasing information. In a morning news conference, Azuay Governor Consuelo Orellana said she was unauthorized by prison officials to provide any details of the situation at Turi. When asked by a reporter to comment on a video released by hostages, she refused to acknowledge its authenticity, saying it was “unofficial” and could be faked. When another reporter asked about the number of hostages being held, Orellana abruptly ended the press conference.
Azuay district prosecutor Leonardo Amoroso said he had received “absolutely no communication” from the prison authority, officially known as the National Service of Integral Attention to Adults Deprived of Liberty and Juvenile Offenders, or SNAI. “As far as I know, nothing is happening at Turi since they are not talking to us. The entire prison administration office has gone dark.”
On Friday morning, an estimated 400 soldiers and 200 police personnel remained positioned outside the Turi prison while roads to the facility remained barricaded.
Beyond the lack of confirmation of a hostage release, it was unclear how many hostages there were at Turi. Zapata said the group included 50 guards and seven police. Adding to the confusion, however, a member of Zapata’s staff said “off the record” that hostages are being held at other prisons around the country, not just at Turi.