Six arrested for presidential candidate's assassination

Police in Ecuador have arrested six men over the murder of presidential hopeful Fernando Villavicencio, the country’s Interior Ministry said

Six arrested for presidential candidate's assassination

The suspects are believed to have ties to organized crime, according to Ecuadorian officials

Police in Ecuador have taken six men into custody over the murder of presidential hopeful Fernando Villavicencio, the country’s Interior Ministry said. The politician was shot in broad daylight at a campaign rally earlier this week, days before the next election. 

Interior Minister Jose Serrano confirmed the arrests during a Thursday press briefing, noting authorities are still searching for the mastermind behind the assassination. The six suspects were identified as Andres M., Jose N., Eddy G., Camilo R., Jules C., and Jhon Rodriguez, all Colombian nationals said to have links to organized criminal groups.

A police report obtained by the Associated Press said the men were apprehended during a raid on a home in Quito. A large cache of weapons was found at the hideout, including three hand grenades, a submachine gun, several pistols and a rifle, Serrano added.

An anti-corruption activist and former lawmaker, Villavicencio was murdered in a hail of bullets while departing a campaign event in the Ecuadorian capital on Wednesday, where witnesses reported dozens of shots fired. One of the assailants, who has not been named, was killed in a shootout with police later that day, according to Ecuador’s attorney general’s office.

Officials revealed additional details about the slaying on Thursday, with President Guillermo Lasso stating that one of the gunmen hurled a grenade at police while attempting to flee the scene. The device did not go off, however, and officers later detonated it in a controlled setting. A handgun was also found in the area, investigators said.

The government has responded to the murder with heightened security measures and a state of emergency, stationing police and soldiers across the country for the duration of the next presidential race, which is set to kick off on August 20. The election will go on as scheduled, with the head of Ecuador’s election council, Diana Atamaint, saying the date is “unalterable.”

“The vote of the Ecuadorian people will be the best answer to the mafias and their allies,” the interior minister added.

The office of President Lasso said Quito reached out to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for assistance, and that an FBI delegation would arrive in Ecuador sometime in the coming days. The White House has deemed Villavicencio’s killing “very shocking,” with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby calling for a “full, complete and transparent investigation.”

Nine others were injured during Wednesday’s shooting, including two police officers and another political candidate. The incident marked the first assassination of a presidential contender in Ecuador’s history, prompting several other candidates to suspend their campaigns.