Six arrested after car explosions in Quito, police say

A firetruck is parked at the scene as firefighters work on the remains of a car, that according to authorities was loaded with two gas tanks and later exploded when suspects set it on fire, seemingly targeting Ecuador's prison agency SNAI, in Quito, Ecuador August 31, 2023. REUTERS/Karen Toro

QUITO (Reuters) - Two car explosions possibly targeted at Ecuador's prisons agency SNAI have led to six arrests, Quito police said on Thursday.

"Formerly the SNAI operated in this building and that could possibly be the connection," police general Pablo Ramirez said in a video posted on X, the social network previously known as Twitter, about the first explosion which happened overnight.

The building is now home to the Ministry of Women and Human Rights.

Police did not make clear the timing of the second explosion.

Some of the suspects arrested over the first explosion abandoned their car, which contained a slow fuse explosive. Another two of those arrested then threw a flammable liquid on the car, police said.

Both the car that was blown up and the car the suspects were found in had been reported as stolen.

A second vehicle, which contained two cylinders of gasoline and a slow fuse, also exploded nearby at a current office of the prisons agency, the police said, "causing the destruction of the vehicle and damage to the exterior of the SNAI building, on 12th of October Avenue between (the streets of) Wilson and Foch."

There were no injuries in either incident, police said.

Violence and crime have spiked on Ecuador's streets and in its prisons since the pandemic, with the government struggling to contain bloodshed it blames on drug gangs.

An election contest which will go to a second round on Oct. 15 was overshadowed by the assassination of anti-corruption candidate Fernando Villavicencio, a killing that is still under investigation.

Authorities conducted operations in Cotopaxi prison on Wednesday, though they have not confirmed the transfer of any high-level prisoners. Transfers of gang leaders have previously caused rioting in Ecuador jails.

There were also reported security incidents on Wednesday in the Turi prison in Cuenca, though authorities have not given details.

Four of the suspects arrested, who had previous records for extortion and kidnapping, are Ecuadorean and one Colombian, Ramirez said. The nationality of the sixth was unclear.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Holmes)

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