Masked gunmen took over a television studio in Ecuador on Tuesday, pointing their weapons at terrified staff and taking them hostage during a live broadcast.
The gunmen infiltrated the studio of TC Television in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where the incident was aired live for about 15 minutes before the signal was cut. Harrowing video was shared on social media that showed several of the masked assailants approaching a man who was pleading for them to deescalate the situation.
As he begs them with his hands folded, several of the armed men approach him with their weapons drawn and force him to drop to the ground. Behind him, other employees can be seen on the ground, apparently being held hostage.
As the video continues, the gunmen – who can be heard yelling in Spanish – brandish what they claim to be bombs in front of the still-rolling cameras. One of the men takes what appears to be a dynamite stick and places it in the begging staffer’s front jacket pocket.
The country’s police commander, César Zapata, confirmed to Ecuadorian TV channel Teleamazonas that police subsequently had arrested the 13 masked gunmen who took over the studio and seized their weapons. Ecuador’s attorney general’s office said the 13 individuals will be charged with terrorism. No one was killed during the incident.
“This is an act that should be considered as a terrorist act,” Zapata told the outlet.
Alina Manrique, the head of news for TC Television, said she was in the control room, across from the studio, when the group of masked men burst into the building. One of the men pointed a gun at her head and told her to get on the floor, Manrique said.
“I am still in shock,” Manrique told the Associated Press in a phone interview. “Everything has collapsed. …. All I know is that it’s time to leave this country and go very far away.”
The incident is the latest attack that has rocked Ecuador in recent days since President Daniel Noboa declared a national state of emergency after notorious gang leader Adolfo Macías – also known as “Fito” – escaped from prison.
Macías disappeared from his cell last Sunday, the same day that he was scheduled to be transferred to a maximum-security prison. His whereabouts are unknown. He had been serving a 34-year sentence in La Regional prison in Guayaquil.
Noboa’s emergency order was set to last 60 days from when he declared it to “suspend rights and mobilize the military in places like prisons,” AP reported. The government also established a curfew for citizens during the 60 days from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., starting Monday night.
After the attack on the TV station, Noboa issued a decree “designating 20 drug trafficking gangs operating in the country as terrorist groups and authorizing Ecuador’s military to ‘neutralize’ these groups within the bounds of international humanitarian law,” the outlet added.
Though Ecuadorian authorities have not disclosed who is behind the attacks and how many have occurred, they began after Noboa’s Monday declaration.
The attacks have included explosions around the country, vehicles set on fire and the kidnapping of several police officers.