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Ecuador police defuse bomb strapped to guard by suspects demanding extortion money

Ecuadoran explosives experts defused a bomb on the streets of Guayaquil that criminals had strapped to a security guard after his employer refused to pay protection money, police and media said.  

In a video released by the police late Thursday, the man is seen with packages taped to his chest — tubes and wires sticking into the air.

As onlookers took video and photos from a safe distance, police covered the man in a protective vest and helmet and led him away to deactivate the bomb.  

The man came out of the ordeal in good health, police said.

Images widely distributed on social media showed the man pacing up and down the street, putting his hand to his head, as he waited for help to arrive.

"I congratulate the courage and professional work of our police officers and the anti-explosive team in disabling the... explosive device," police chief Fausto Salinas wrote on Twitter.  

Local media reported the victim was a security guard at a jewelry store, and was allegedly taken after its owner refused to be shaken down by criminals.

Guayaquil, in Ecuador's southwest, is one of the most violent cities in a country gripped by a wave of crime blamed on gang rivalries.

Kidnappings and extortion are commonplace.

Ecuador is sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, the world's two largest cocaine producers, and has itself become a hub for the global drug trade in recent years.

Earlier this month, letter bombs were sent to at least five journalists working in TV and radio in Guayaquil and the capital Quito.

Also this month, police found three human heads wrapped in black bags in Esmeraldas, a coastal province plagued by drug trafficking.

President Guillermo Lasso has declared war on gangs who control the drug trade from prisons engulfed by extreme violence and riots that have left more than 400 inmates dead since 2021.

Ecuador has seen its murder rate jump from 14 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2021 to 25 per 100,000 in 2022.

The government says the escalating violence is "related to illicit drug trafficking as well as extortion mechanisms."

With the proliferation of organized crime, some local gangs, such as the Lobos and Los Tiguerones, have morphed into micro-cartels.

Both gangs work with Mexico's Jalisco New Generation cartel, and have been responsible for deadly prison riots. The Department of Justice considers the Jalisco cartel "one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world." The cartel's leader, Nemesio Oseguera, "El Mencho," is among the most sought by Mexican and U.S. authorities.

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