Explosive USB sticks mailed to five Ecuadorian TV stations, one explodes in journalist’s face

Explosive USB sticks mailed to five Ecuadorian TV stations, one explodes in journalist’s face

Explosive USB sticks mailed to five Ecuadorian TV stations, one explodes in journalist's face

Letter bombs were sent Monday to at least five journalists working at TV and radio stations in violence-ridden Ecuador, one of which exploded without causing serious injury, Interior Minister Juan Zapata.

The prosecutor’s office said it had opened an investigation into the crime of terrorism, without specifying why the news channels were specifically targeted or by whom.

The interior minister said the envelopes were sent from the town of Quimsaloma in the coastal province of Los Rios. Three were sent to Guayaquil in the southwest and two to the capital Quito.

The “device is indeed the same in all five locations,” Zapata told reporters.

In the port city of Guayaquil, journalist Lenin Artieda of the private Ecuavisa TV channel received an envelope containing a USB drive which exploded when he inserted it into a computer, his employer said.

Artieda suffered minor injuries to a hand and face, police chief Xavier Chango said. No one else was injured.

Chango said the flash drive sent to Artieda could have been loaded with RDX, a military-grade explosive.

Another package addressed to journalist Carlos Vera was intercepted by police at a courier company in Guayaquil and did not reach its destination, Zapata said.

Elsewhere in Guayaquil, in southwestern Ecuador, the prosecutor’s office said a letter bomb was also sent to the offices of TC Television.

There is “an absolutely clear message to silence journalists”, the minister said.

New escalation

The Teleamazonas channel later said that it had also received a USB key at its Quito offices “with the same characteristics” as the one sent to Ecuavisa.

The NGO Fundamedios, which campaigns for press freedom, said the three “attacks used the same modus operandi”.

Envelopes with USB drives were sent to Artieda as well as Mauricio Ayora of TC Television and Milton Perez of Teleamazonas, he said in a statement.

The envelope addressed to Artieda contained a threat against the journalist, Fundamedios said.

The one from Teleamazonas, he added, contained a note claiming the key contained information about “Correismo” – a political movement named after former President Rafael Correa.

The letters represented “a further escalation of violence against the press, Fundamedios said, and called for “immediate state intervention.”

The government said in a statement that it “categorically rejects any form of violence perpetrated against journalists and the media”.

Any attempt to “intimidate journalism and freedom of expression is repugnant”, he added.

The human rights watchdog CDH also condemned the attacks on the media “in the context of growing insecurity in Ecuador”.

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

Guayaquil is one of its most violent cities, with frequent clashes between criminal gangs fighting over drug trafficking routes.

President Guillermo Lasso has declared war on gangs controlling drug trafficking from prisons engulfed in extreme violence and riots that have claimed more than 400 lives since 2021.

Ecuador saw its murder rate drop from 14 per 100,000 people in 2021 to 25 per 100,000 in 2022.

Last year, the RTS television channel was attacked by gunfire, and in 2020 a bomb exploded in Teleamazonas.

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