Inside bloodthirsty Ecuadorian drug gang that ‘kidnapped Brit millionaire’

The Ecuadorian gang thought to have kidnapped Brit millionaire Colin Armstrong has been linked to mass beheadings and had a professional footballer allegedly calling the shots.

Today (Wednesday, December 20) Mr Armstrong, 78, was released from captivity. Security sources told The Telegraph authorities suspected Los Tiguerones, one of Ecuador's largest drug trafficking organisations, were responsible. 

Mr Armstrong was dragged from his ranch near the city of Guayaquil. Following news of his release today, it emerged nine people have been arrested in connection with the kidnapping.

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Los Tiguerones emerged as a criminal force in 2019 in the port city of Esmeraldas, initially as a local branch of the country's largest gang Los Choneros. It is thought William Joffre Alcívar Bautista – a former prison officer – founded Los Tiguerones.

Los Tiguerones sought to consolidate power of their own following the murder of Los Choneros boss Jorge Luis Zambrano at the end of 2020. They were particularly keen to move into the port city of Guayaquil to expand their trafficking opportunities. This sparked huge gang conflict in Ecuador, with blood spilling in both the streets and prisons.

Los Tiguerones members were linked to the explosion of violence at Litoral Penitentiary in Guayaquil in September 2021. Some 119 prisoners were killed – several were mutilated or beheaded. It took two days for authorities to regain control.

Exacerbating Los Tiguerones and Los Choneros' feud is the fact they're both allied with opposing Mexican drug cartels. "One is the mega-gang of Los Choneros, which is linked to the Sinaloa Cartel; others are Los Tiguerones, Los Lobos and Los Largartos, which are linked to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG)," Colonel Mario Pazmiño, former Director of Intelligence in Ecuador, previously told the BBC.

Los Tiguerones are renown for contract killings and made the front pages in Ecuador in April 2022 following the arrest of Gabriel Cortez, a midfielder for Guayaquil-based Barcelona Sporting Club – the most successful top flight team in Ecuadorian football history.

Authorities suspected he was an active member of the gang and accused him of being involved in organising assassinations. Ecuador’s Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said at the time: "We don’t think he just belongs to Los Tiguerones. We also believe he was the person that ordered and received the information about the people hitmen had deprived of life."

Cortez was actually declared innocent following a court appearance in Esmeraldas earlier this year, but the State Attorney General's Office has said it is looking at appealing this ruling.

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