A massive bomb attack has killed five and wounded many others in Ecuador, marking a shift towards the use of explosives as a tool for assassinations by the country’s warring organized crime groups. 

Five people were killed and dozens left injured when a homemade explosive device detonated in the southern port city of Guayaquil in the early hours of August 14, according to Ecuador authorities.

The attack was reportedly carried out by two men on a motorcycle, who threw a bag containing the bomb into a restaurant in a neighborhood known as Cristo del Consuelo, locals told newspaper El Universal. Some residents reported hearing gunfire prior to the explosion. 

Ecuador’s Interior Minister, Patricio Carrillo, said the intended targets of the attack were two individuals with possible ties to the Tiguerones prison gang, one of the largest in Ecuador. He gave their names only as “Cucaracha” and “Júnior.”

Carrillo also blamed the country’s gangs for a recent dramatic escalation in violence, and said the latest attack was a clear indication of how serious a threat organized crime has become in Ecuador. 

“Mercenaries of organized crime, who have long fostered the drug economy in Ecuador, are now attacking with explosives. It is not [just] a problem of the Ecuadorian police. It is a declaration of war on the state,” he wrote on Twitter shortly after the bombing. 

The family of Cucaracha, whose full name is Juan Carlos Corozo Mercado, said he had no connection to the Tiguerones and demanded Carrillo retract his statement, newspaper Expreso reported.

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The government has offered a $10,000 reward for information related to the attack, but Carrillo said many of the injured leaving the hospital had so far refused to speak out about the incident.

The attack comes amid a wave of orchestrated bombings throughout the Andean nation. El Universo reported the use of explosive devices in 145 incidents so far this year, with nearly half taking place in Guayaquil. 

A crucial drug trafficking city, Guayaquil has spent years weathering rising murders. Until now, however, no bombing had caused fatalities, local journalist and organized crime expert Arturo Torres told InSight Crime.

InSight Crime Analysis

Homemade bomb devices are commonly used as a scare tactic in Ecuador. But the attack in Guayaquil may signal a move toward the use of bombs as a modus operandi for the targeted killings of rivals.

Though Ecuador’s prison gangs have been experimenting with car bombings for months — part of a larger trend that sees the gangs borrow tactics from supremely violent criminal groups in Mexico and Colombia — they have traditionally used hitmen and drive-by shootings to take down rivals. 

But the Guayaquil bomb attack appears to have had intentions beyond shock and awe. The explosion had a 50 to 70-meter blast radius and was packed with metal fragments for additional destruction. Shrapnel was left in the surrounding buildings and vehicles, and in the victims themselves. 

SEE ALSO: Car Bombs Send Shock Waves Through Ecuador

The Tiguerones, among other gangs, are locked in a bitter territorial dispute with the Choneros, another of Ecuador’s top gangs. The Choneros have made their criminal fortune transporting cocaine out of Guayaquil’s port and have a long-standing relationship with Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa Cartel.

Tensions between the Choneros and gangs such as the Tiguerones reportedly provoked a bloody prison riot in Guayaquil that left 68 inmates dead last November.

The Tiguerones lack the muscle to challenge their rivals in Guayaquil but hold a presence there via alliances with mutual enemies of the Choneros, including a group known as Los Lobos, Torres explained.

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