Quito, Aug 10 (EFE).- Ecuador’s police on Thursday identified a group of Colombians as the alleged perpetrators of the murder of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio while leaving a campaign rally in Quito.
Villavicencio, 59, was shot late Wednesday afternoon on the outskirts of an arena where he had gathered supporters in an electoral rally ahead of the country’s Aug. 20 general election
Police sources told EFE that all six people arrested so far for their alleged connection to the crime as well as a suspect who died in a shootout with Villavicencio’s security personnel, are Colombian nationals.
Initially, Ecuador’s Interior Minister Juan Zapata had limited himself to saying that the six detainees were foreigners, without specifying their nationality, although he did identify them as Andrés M. José L., Adey G., Camilo R., Jules C. and John R.
The suspects were arrested on Wednesday night in a series of raids carried out in homes in two neighborhoods of the Ecuadorian capital.
Several weapons were seized during the raids, including a rifle, a submachine gun, four pistols and three grenades.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) delegation will arrive in Ecuador in the next few hours to help with the investigation at the request of the country’s president, the conservative Guillermo Lasso, after the US ambassador in Quito offered him “urgent investigative assistance.”
On Thursday, a judge ordered the preventive detention of the six suspects based on evidence presented by the attorney general’s office during a hearing to formulate charges against them.
Earlier in the day, a short video of unknown origin in which masked, heavily armed individuals claimed responsibility for Villavicencio’s assassination went viral on social media.
They also issued a warning to Jan Topic, a presidential candidate and security expert who like Villavicencio has vowed to severely crack down on organized crime and drug trafficking if elected.
The armed individuals said they are members of Los Lobos, one of Ecuador’s largest criminal gangs and a group blamed in part for a severe public safety crisis and a series of prison clashes that have left more than 400 inmates dead since 2020.
In 2022, Ecuador’s homicide rate rose to 25.32 per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest figure in its history.
However, in a separate video, also of unknown origin, released hours later, apparent members of Los Lobos dressed in white and with their faces uncovered, denied having assassinated Villavicencio.
Villavicencio’s assassination has shifted the focus of the upcoming elections to revolve almost exclusively around the problem of security and the threat of organized crime, involved mainly in drug trafficking and extortion and kidnapping.
While the eight main candidates have promised to address the situation and reduce violence, Villavicencio had repeatedly reiterated his intention to crack down on mafias and for several weeks had denounced death threats.
“My husband was murdered because he was the only one who stood up to the political mafias and drug traffickers in this country,” Villavicencio’s wife, Verónica Sarauz, said Thursday on X (formerly Twitter).
Villavicencio’s body was transferred around noon from the medical center where the autopsy was performed to a funeral home in the north of Quito where his family members will hold a vigil.
On Friday, people will be allowed to pay respects to him.
The attack also left at least nine people injured, five of whom are stable, according to a statement from the medical center where they are admitted.
Villavicencio’s murder has marred the celebrations planned on Thursday in Ecuador to commemorate its Independence Day, which coincided with the first of three days of national mourning decreed by the government.