Ecuadorian police officers inspect a workshop after a murder rampage in Guayaquil, Ecuador on April 30, 2023
Ecuadorian police officers inspect a workshop after a murder rampage in Guayaquil, Ecuador on April 30, 2023 AFP

At least 10 people were killed overnight when heavily armed assailants opened fire outside a shop in Guayaquil, Ecuador's main port city and economic hub that is under a state of emergency due to rising drug violence, police said Sunday.

The gruesome attack occurred at a mechanic shop in the city's southwest as people were inside drinking and watching a soccer match on TV, witnesses said.

Several people drove up in a black truck, stepped out without saying a word, and opened fire using "long weapons," said General William Villaroel, the police commander for Guayaquil and neighboring Duran and Samborondon.

Hours later, bodies could be seen lying on the sidewalk in pools of blood, as people cried and hugged one another while police cordoned off the area, AFP saw.

"I don't feel comfortable living like this," one neighbor told AFP, asking not to be named. "We can't go out with our families, with our children."

In addition to those killed, three people were wounded, "unfortunately including a five-year-old girl who is stable and is going to be operated for shrapnel," Villaroel said.

He said police believed the massacre was the result of "a fight between organized criminal groups -- a fight for power and territory."

Ecuador's attorney general's office said on Twitter that it had opened a preliminary investigation.

Guayaquil has become one of the country's increasingly bloody centers of a turf war between rival drug-trafficking gangs.

The port city's position on the Pacific coast makes it a strategic launch point for shipments of drugs to the United States and Europe.

The killing is the latest in a recent surge of violence, including gang- and cartel-related murders and multiple prison riots and massacres, as authorities crack down on gangs and seize drugs.

Police have yet to report any arrests from the latest attack.

They tweeted Saturday night that "intelligence units" were working "to identify those responsible."

Police did not identify the shooting victims, but said that five of them had criminal records for drug- and weapons-related violations.

Amid the rise in crime, the government of President Guillermo Lasso has declared criminal groups to be terrorists.

Since April 1, Guayaquil has been under a state of emergency, which allows the military to patrol the streets and implement curfews.

As the fight against criminal gangs goes on, the number of drug seizures has risen but so have violent deaths in the streets and in prisons.

Clashes between inmates have left more than 420 prisoners dead since 2021, while outside the prisons the murder rate soared in 2022, nearly doubling from 14 to 25 per 100,000 inhabitants, the authorities say.

Two weeks ago, in the northwestern province of Esmeraldas, some 30 gunmen opened fire in a fishing port, killing nine people.

Local media reported that in that province -- also under a state of emergency -- four other people were shot dead on Saturday.

In the first three months of this year, 555 homicides were reported just in Guayaquil, Duran and Samborondon.

By late Sunday morning in Guayaquil, no police or soldiers remained at the scene, where a torn yellow tape hanging from a door was one of the few signs of the previous night's massacre.

"The owner woke up to clean the blood with a bucket of water," Yolanda, a 55-year-old businesswoman, told AFP. She asked that her full name not be used.