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Quito says security operations within prisons may have led to car bombs

By Alexandra Valencia

QUITO (Reuters) -Two car explosions targeted at Ecuadorean prisons agency SNAI may have been set off in response to government security operations at prisons this week, President Guillermo Lasso and a top security official said on Thursday.

The explosions overnight in the capital - one at a building formerly used by SNAI and another still in use by the agency - caused some exterior damage to the second building and led to 10 arrests. There were no injuries.

"There are violent actions like that of the two cars burned in Quito last night, clearly that's a reaction to an action. The action of imposing order in the prisons, the reaction to intimidate," Lasso said at a housing event in Los Rios province.

Lasso said on X, the social media network previously known as Twitter, that operations in Cotopaxi prison on Wednesday were meant to confiscate arms, munitions and explosives. SNAI did not comment.

Lasso, who called early elections amid an impeachment effort against him, has been heavily criticized for failing to control rising violence on the streets and in prisons that has resulted in a heavy death toll.

The bloodshed was thrown into sharp relief by the early August assassination of anti-corruption presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio.

Six suspects, five Ecuadoreans and one Colombian, were arrested for the first attack and four others were arrested for the second explosion, authorities said. The nationalities of those in the second group were not given.

Most of those detained have criminal records, Interior Minister Juan Zapata told journalists on Thursday afternoon, adding that three were caught for a robbery two weeks ago but subsequently released by a judge.

"As a state, we have to ask some judges, How long do we have to continue enduring impunity?" Zapata said.

Some 57 prison guards and police were being held hostage at six prisons throughout the country, the SNAI prison authority said, adding that security forces were taking action to free them.

Security Secretary Wagner Bravo also said the Quito explosions could be related to prisoner transfers. Transfers of gang leaders have previously caused rioting in Ecuador jails.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Oliver Griffin; Editing by David Holmes, Cynthia Osterman, Leslie Adler and Miral Fahmy)