Authorities in Ecuador have captured members of what they call the "most dangerous" group dedicated to bank robbery at a national level, in an example of an apparently well-organized and sophisticated homegrown criminal operation.
In an operation labeled "Quimera," Ecuadorean police carried out 24 raids in three western cities in which they arrested 10 men and seized weaponry including assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, revolvers, bulletproof vests and an explosive device, reported El Comercio.
The detained suspects allegedly formed part of a structure involved in the assault and robbery of banks and armored vehicles, which authorities had been investigating for nearly a year. According to officials, the group's leader was among those arrested.
Interior Minister Jose Serrano said the group was responsible for "all of the assaults" on companies responsible for transporting money in the country, and had carried out between 100 and 150 attacks. On his Twitter account, Serrano also labeled the group the "most dangerous that operated in the country assaulting armored cars and banks."
1/7URGENTE esta madrugada desarticulamos la banda mas peligrosa que operaba en el pais en asalto a blindados y bancos pic.twitter.com/wY1bZYi02N
— jose serrano salgado (@ppsesa) April 29, 2014
InSight Crime Analysis
The range of firearms belonging to the group, the number of assaults carried out, and the fact it allegedly operated around the country indicates a higher level of organization and more sophisticated operation than is generally associated with bank robbery. A similar phenomenon was discovered in Brazil earlier this year, with heavily armed groups committing hit-and-run bank robberies in geographically distinct rural areas.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ecuador
In the Brazilian case, the groups were alleged to have links to the First Capital Command (PCC) prison gang. The current case begs the question of where this Ecuadorean group would have received weapons such as assault rifles and grenades, and whether they could also have links to a larger organization.
Ecuador is a gun smuggling hotspot for arms often later sold on to Colombian rebels or drug traffickers. It has also long been an important transit point for drug shipments originating in Colombia, and both Mexican cartels and Colombian criminal groups have developed a presence in the country.