At least 10 people were killed in violence at a prison in Ecuador's capital Quito on Friday, the prisons agency said, after authorities moved two gang leaders to a maximum security facility.
Authorities have been moving prisoners considered to be gang leaders to new facilities in a bid to help reduce violence in the country's chaotic jails. Ecuador's prison system has faced structural problems for decades, but jail violence has soared since late 2020, killing at least 400 people and terrorizing inmates' families.
At least five police officers were killed earlier this month in attacks in reaction to the transfer of about 1,000 prisoners, while at least two inmates died in related violence.
The attorney general's office said on Twitter on Friday that it had opened an investigation into the deaths of nine people at the El Inca prison in the capital. The SNAI prison authority confirmed at least 10 prisoners had died.
The violence took place after the transfers of 'Bermudez' from Los Lobos gang and 'Anchundia' from the R7 gang, who authorities say are gang leaders responsible for recent violence in prisons in Quito and Santo Domingo respectively.
President Guillermo Lasso has repeatedly accused gangs of using violence to retaliate against his government's efforts to combat them. Ecuador is used as a transit point for drugs bound for Europe and the United States.
"The government acts with all the rigor of the law to sanction the leaders of narco-terrorist mafias that provoke attacks, that's why those who cause problems will be transferred to the maximum security prison," Lasso's office said in an earlier statement.
Three more leaders from Los Lobos, who have been identified as the masterminds of the violence in the Quito prison, will also be moved to the maximum security facility, the government said in a later statement.
SNAI reopened the maximum security La Roca prison in Guayaquil for gang leaders this year.