Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa has declared an "internal armed conflict" is underway inside of his country as the U.S. Embassy and Consulate there issued an alert that it is monitoring threats to the safety and security of American citizens.
The messages emerged Tuesday as masked gunman took over a television studio in Ecuador, pointing their weapons at terrified staff and taking them hostage during a live broadcast. Ecuador has been rocked by violent unrest following Los Choneros criminal organization leader Jose Adolfo Macias’s escape from prison in Guayaquil on Sunday.
"On January 9, after numerous attacks by organized criminal gangs across Ecuador against private, public, and government institutions, President Noboa declared the existence of an internal armed conflict and authorized military action against these groups," the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Ecuador said. "The Ministry of Education has announced that all schools will operate virtually through January 12 and the Ministry of Labor has recommended telework wherever possible. As such, the Embassy has authorized telework for mission employees through January 12.
"The United States Embassy and Consulate in Ecuador are monitoring reports of criminal activity and other threats to safety and security of U.S. citizens in Ecuador," it added.
Ecuador’s police commander, César Zapata, confirmed to Ecuadorian TV channel Teleamazonas on Tuesday that police later 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.
On Tuesday, shortly after the gunmen stormed the TV station, Noboa issued another decree designating as terrorist groups 20 drug-trafficking gangs operating in the country, and authorizing Ecuador's military to "neutralize" them within the bounds of international humanitarian law.
The government has said at least 30 attacks have taken place since authorities announced that Macías, who goes by the Alias "Fito," was discovered missing from his cell in a low-security prison Sunday. He was scheduled to be transferred to a maximum-security facility that day.
Ecuadorean officials on Tuesday also announced that another gang leader, Fabricio Colón Pico of the Los Lobos group, had escaped from a prison in the town of Riobamba. Colón Pico was captured on Friday as part of a kidnapping investigation and has also been accused of trying to murder one of the nation’s lead prosecutors.
Fox News’ Gabriel Hays and The Associated Press contributed to this report.