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IMMINENT WARNING: EXPLODING USB LETTER BOMBS TARGET FIVE ECUADORIAN TV AND RADIO STATIONS

March 20, 2023

Arnold R. Koka, Weapons and Tactics (W/T)Team

John Smith Álvaro Picón, Editor; Jennifer Loy, Chief Editor


Ecuadorian Police in the Capital Quito[1]


Event: On March 20, 2023, five Ecuadorian TV and radio stations received letters containing explosive devices disguised in USB drives, along with threatening messages. Targets included TV stations Ecuavisa, Teleamazonas, TC Television, the EXA FM radio station, and one independent journalist. An Ecuavisa journalist was slightly injured after the device he plugged into his computer exploded. Local law enforcement and the anti-explosive Intervention and Rescue Group (GIR) determined the pen drive contained a military-grade explosive ingredient, RDX. Ecuador’s Interior Minister Juan Zapata stated that all the letters were posted from Quinsaloma, with three being sent to Guayaquil and two to the capital Quito, and that they are a “clear message to silence journalists.”[2]


Significance: Ecuadorian law enforcement will likely use local informants within criminal and terrorist groups in the Quinsaloma area to track down recent RDX illicit purchases. Investigations will likely require coordination with the Defense Ministry to inquire about missing RDX from storage sites. Investigators will very likely focus on individuals or groups with advanced expertise in handling hazardous chemicals and IED production, which will likely drive the focus toward individuals with a scientific or military background. There is a roughly even chance emerging crime and terrorist cells will claim the attack to gain media traction and popularity, regardless of their actual involvement. The high technical expertise required to produce similar IEDs will very likely prevent these groups from emulating the attacks in the future. TV and radio news agencies will likely require technical advisory to the Ecuadorian National Police to introduce explosives detection systems to scan future physical correspondence. Other letter bombs will likely target news agencies carrying out investigative reporting, they will likely employ different disguise tactics than USB drives to minimize suspicion among recipients. There is a roughly even chance that violence against journalists will expand to armed physical assaults against them or their family members nearby their work and residence areas.


Recommendations

  • The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends that Ecuadorian news agencies introduce explosives detection systems in departments tasked with collecting and sorting incoming mail, and decentralize these units from their headquarters to minimize risks to other staff members.

  • CTG recommends that Ecuadorian news agencies provide counter-surveillance training to staff members and discourage them from sharing personal information on social media, including temporary geolocation, future public activities, and private addresses.

  • CTG recommends independent investigative reporters in Ecuador increase reliance on digital encrypted messaging systems to obtain confidential material, and to exclusively use external post office boxes employing security scan systems for physical correspondence.

  • CTG recommends the Ecuadorian Army conduct an internal investigation to verify unreported withdrawals of RDX and other explosive materials from storage sites in the Quinsaloma Canton and neighboring areas.

  • CTG recommends law enforcement increase surveillance of movements and monetary transactions of individuals possessing IED construction knowledge and skills, including active or former members of the army and the scientific community.

  • If there is any additional and or critical information please contact us at The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) by Telephone at 202-643-2848 or email at info@counterterrorismgroup.com

 

[2] Five Ecuador TV stations receive letter bombs, one explodes, France24, March 2023, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20230320-letter-bomb-explodes-at-ecuador-tv-station-other-media-get-envelopes

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