QUITO (Reuters) – Ecuador’s national police have captured 18 suspected members of a criminal group who could have ties to drugs and arms trafficking, as well as murders and terrorism, with possible ties to an illegal armed group in Colombia, the organization said on Friday.
The detainees, identified by police as Los Tiguerones, included three police officers in active service and a well-known footballer. The suspects, who were managed from a prison in the north of the country, were captured in the city of Esmeraldas, close to the border with Colombia, the officials said.
“This group had an established link to the Colombian group Oliver Sinisterra Front, belonging to former FARC dissidents,” Carlos Cabrera, commander of Ecuador’s national police, told journalists in Esmeraldas.
Security forces also carried out an operation in the jail in Esmeraldas, where leaders of the group were isolated to halt possible violence in the prison.
Violence and crime, including in the prison system, have shot up in the Andean country since late last year. The government lays the blame at drug trafficking gangs who use the country as a transit point for exporting narcotics to the United States and Europe.
Ecuador’s police on Thursday captured 28 suspected members of another criminal band in Guayaquil and Duran. The attorney general’s office says those detainees could be linked to decapitations, dismemberment and kidnapping.
“We are dismantling an armed wing of one of the organizations that act geopolitically from Colombian-Mexican Latin American mafias,” Ecuador’s interior minister, Patricio Carrillo, said at the same press conference.
“This does not stop, we are going to continue,” Carrillo added.
President Guillermo Laso is fighting against a crime wave that has gripped the country with legal reforms and a greater presence of police and military personnel on the streets, but efforts have not managed to neutralize criminal groups.
The government will invest some $1.2 billion for security, the minister said.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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