Ecuador: New clashes leave more than a hundred dead in a Guayaquil prison

At least 116 are dead and 80 injured – all of them locked-up – in a prison in Guayaquil as a result of clashes between rival gangs in what would be the third riot of 2021 in this penitentiary. On all three occasions, there has been disputes between criminal gangs with the aim of taking control of a prison pavilion.

The first riot took place in February and ended with 79 fatalities. In July, the second riot ended with 22 deaths. This third has had the worst consequences.

The No. 1 Detention Center in Guayaquil, Ecuador, was the scene of clashes in which grenades and all kinds of weapons were used. Authorities declared a state of emergency throughout the entire prison system.

Authorities also reactivated security protocols in all prisons in the country in the face of the possibility of new riots spreading through the system. Once the prison returned to a sense of normalcy, officers found corpses with bullet wounds, others mutilated or beheaded, and severed limbs with signs of grenade explosions in the prison pavilions.

Hundreds of relatives of the inmates approached the prison due to lack of official information.

Prisoner advocacy organizations such as Human Rights Watch called on the Ecuadorian government to investigate and identify those responsible for the violence in the prisons.

They also point to the overcrowding of inmates in prison as a key factor in explaining these levels of violence. They argue that all prisons in Ecuador are far above their capacity and do not allow for life in decent conditions.

Other prisoner rights organizations, such as the Alliance Against Prisons, believe that such serious events do not happen without a long history behind them, in which the state itself has a high degree of participation and responsibility.

However, they add that there is a high level of corruption among prison officials and call for serious questioning regarding the origin of the weapons used in these bloody events.


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Murders in the United States increased by 30% in 2020

In 2020, the United States experienced its biggest one-year increase in homicides since national records started in 1960, according to data collected by the FBI in its annual crime report.

The most significant previous annual change was the 12.7% increase in 1968. The national rate (homicides per 100,000 inhabitants) remains at around a third below the rate seen in the early 1990s.

According to FBI data, 21,500 people were killed last year (still well below the records set in the particularly violent era of the early 1990s), nearly 5,000 more than in 2019.

We may never fully know the reasons behind the increase, but analysts have pointed to several factors that may be contributing, including various pandemic-related stresses, the growing mistrust between police and the public as a result of the assassination of George Floyd, the number of police choosing to retire in response to the criticisms, and the increase in the number of firearms being carried on the street.

About 77% of reported homicides in 2020 were committed with a firearm, the highest share ever recorded, 10% up from 67% a decade ago.

The change in the murder rate was a national phenomenon, not a regional one. Homicides increased by more than 35% in cities with a population of more than 250,000. They also increased by more than 40% in cities with between 100,000 and 250,000 and roughly 25% in those with less than 25,000.

Even with the spike in homicides and the approximately 5% rise in violent crime, the new data shows that, overall, major crime fell by between 4 and 5% in 2020.

While murders may have a higher social cost, they constitute a small percentage of what the FBI classifies as major crimes. The overall fall in crime was undoubtedly related to the pandemic. Theft accounted for seven out of ten property crimes, and it’s difficult to shoplift when stores are closed. But the downward trend in overall crime started long before the pandemic: in 2020, the overall crime rate fell for the 18th consecutive year.

The employment of police officers has also been a determining factor. A survey of 200 police departments found significant increases in the number of officers retiring between April 2020 and April 2021.

The larger law enforcement agencies were substantially more likely to report a drop in officers than the smaller ones. Newark and New York City reported some of the biggest percentage decreases, with New York losing more than 2,500 officers from 2019 to 2020.

The crime figures from the country’s largest cities suggest that homicides have continued to increase in 2021, compared to 2020, although at a slower rate. So far, the figures from 87 cities with publicly available data show a 9.9% increase in homicides compared to the figures for this time last year.

Some cities like Portland, Oregon and Las Vegas are experiencing sharp rises compared to last year. Other big cities such as Chicago and New York are seeing similar numbers after significant increases in 2020. And some places, like Saint Louis (which had the highest homicide rate in the nation in 2020), have recorded significantly lower figures.


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Stability in the figures for violent hate crimes in the United States

The rate of violent hate crimes in the United States in 2019 (1.0 hate crimes for every 1,000 persons aged over 12) was not significantly different from that of 2005 (with 0.8 crimes per 1,000 persons), as is shown in the latest Bureau of Justice Statistics, based on data reported by the victims US National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). During the fifteen-year period from 2005 to 2019, the rate of victims of violent hate crimes fluctuated between 0.6 and 1.1 for every 1,000 persons.

On average, the residents of the United States experienced approximately 246,900 victimizations of hate crimes per year during the 2005-2019 period referred to above. The number of hate crimes varied between 173,600 and 305,390 during this period. Yet the proportion of total victimizations for violent hate crimes did not vary significantly between 2005 and 2019.

In general, victimizations of hate crimes represented 1.6% of all non-fatal victimizations in 2019, compared with 0.9% in 2005. The victims indicated that nearly two thirds (62%) of hate crimes during this period were simple aggressions.

During the five-year period studied, it is estimated that 59% of the victimizations of violent hate crimes reported by the victims were motivated by bias against their race, ethnic group or national origin. This was the most frequently reported motivation for a violent hate crime. In almost a quarter of the victimization cases for this type of crime, the victims believed they had been targeted due to bias against their gender (24%), against persons or groups they were associated with (23%) or against their sexual orientation (20%).  Likewise, it was considered that approximately 1 in every 10 victimizations in cases of violent hate crime were motivated by bias against the victim’s disability (11%) or religion (9%).

Between 2010 and 2019, the number of hate crimes registered by the forces of order increased by 10% (from 6,628 to 7,314 incidents), according to the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics Program (HCSP). By comparison, the total volume of crimes registered by the security forces (including hate incidents and fires) decreased by 22% during the same ten-year period.

The figures registered by the forces of order and those reported by the victims differ because the NCVS and HCSP data were collected using different methods, and the victims often did not report incidents to the police. The HSCP and NCVS figures are the main sources of annual information about hate crimes in the United States, and use the definition established by the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990.

As was the case for the motivation of hate crimes reported to the NCVS, the majority (approximately 54%) of the hate crimes registered by the forces of order between 2010 and 2019 represented bias against race, ethnic group or cultural origin. 49% of these incidents were motivated by bias against blacks or Afro-Americans.  During this same period of time, the forces of order registered increases in the number of victims of hate crimes against blacks or Afro-Americans (from 2,201 to 2,391 victims), Asians (from 136 to 215) and Arabs (from 48 to 126).


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“No More Ransom” stops criminals receiving 1 billion euros

To date, the website No More Ransom providing ransomware decryption has helped over 6 million victims to recover their files, and has kept nearly 1 billion euros out of the hands of cybercriminals, as it has announced in a recent press release.

Launched five years ago, No More Ransom is supported by cooperation between the European Cybercrime Centre and various cybersecurity companies such as Kaspersky, McAfee, Barracuda and AWS. Its aim is to prevent victims from paying money that will then help to create even more ransomware attacks, according to Europol.

No More Ransom lists decryption programs so that victims of ransomware don’t have to pay to recover their data, thus preventing the hackers from receiving the money. For this reason they insist that ransom amounts must not be paid since, in any case, there is no guarantee that victims will be given the decryption key they need.

The group directs victims to their Crypto Sheriff tool. There the victims can introduce the URL (Internet address) of Bitcoin given by the hackers so that the ransom can be paid. The tool searches in the No More Ransom database, where the offers listed have grown from the four initial descriptors from 2016 to the present list of 121 tools proposed for decrypting some 152 families of ransomware. According to the group, the service is free and is available in 37 languages.

If there is no decryption tool available for a specific ransomware virus, users are advised to continue to check the list, since No More Ransom regularly adds new descriptors.

Keeping regular security copies continues to be the best way to protect your data from a ransomware attack, according to Europol. The agency also advises users to pay attention to the links on which they click and to update their security software.

Victims are, in fact, increasingly reluctant to pay the ransom demands. A survey by Threatpost in June found that 80% of those surveyed who had been the subject of ransomware attacks had refused to pay for a descriptor that could very well never materialise.

No More Ransom provides a reply to the increasing number of cybercrime companies, which seem to inject large sums of money into the ransomware ecosystem. During the first half of 2020, such attacks represented 41% of all cybercrime demands, according to a report made in June by Cyber Claims Insurance.

In addition to financing a criminal company, the payment of ransomware to companies sanctioned by the federal government could bring a company to the notice of the US Treasury, which added various ransomware groups to its sanction list in October 2020.


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Europol: new assessment of the terrorist threat from jihadist organisations

Europol has published the third edition of its Annual Report on the most prominent online jihadist propaganda in 2020.

Focusing on Islamic State and Al-Qaida, together with their various branches, the report traces the continuing development of these groups and how they have reacted to changing situations and attempted to overcome difficulties.

Prepared by the European Union Internet Referral Unit (EU IRU) run by the European Counter-Terrorism Centre, this assessment of the threats is based on primary sources, including the publications, videos and recorded statements of the groups concerned, gathered by the EU IRU during the course of 2020.

The Report shows that 2020 was a critical period in the evolution of Islamic State and Al-Qaida. Both jihadist terrorist groups suffered major setbacks and were forced to adapt to fast-changing realities in order to survive and to continue to appear relevant. The risk that online jihadist propaganda may lead to continuous violence is still very high, given that both groups’ propaganda continues to call for attacks by isolated individuals who have no physical connection with either of the two groups. Among the main conclusions are the following:

Islamic State (IS)

• Under new leadership, IS is involved in increasing insurgency activity in its traditional strongholds and continues to exert global influence.

• One year after IS’s military defeat, the group’s media production capacities remain limited, due to its loss of infrastructure and personnel. As a result, IS official propaganda remained diminished in 2020.

• Today the group is focused on attempting resurgence in Iraq and expanding its international presence so as to encourage even more its global network of affiliates.

Al-Qaida (AQ)

• During the course of 2020, AQ underwent a series of major setbacks and lost some of its most prominent leaders.

• AQ continues to take advantage of current events to put forward its ideological tenets, which are presented as being “less extreme” than those of IS.

• Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) wishes to show that it is still capable of setting up external operations, even if events seem to suggest a reduction of its capacity in the field.

European Union Internet Referral Unit

Interpol’s EU IRU detects and investigates malicious content on the Internet and on the social networks. EU IRU’s work not only produces strategic information about jihadist terrorism, but also provides evidence to be used in criminal investigations.

This Unit is made up of a team of over forty specialists with a wide variety of skills and expertise, ranging from experts in terrorism inspired by religious motivations, to developers of information and communication technology and police officers specialising in counter-terrorism.


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An investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office is thought to have confirmed that the Government of El Salvador is negotiating with the Maras criminal gangs

According to a report by the El Salvador newspaper El Faro, the Public Prosecutor, Raúl Melara, organised a team to investigate the relationship between various officials of the present and previous governments involved in discussions with the Maras. The scores of pieces of evidence that have been brought together during the investigation (including recordings, photographs and witness statements) will not now come to light due to the dismissal of Prosecutor Melara and his team.

The current dramatic fall in the number of violent murders experienced in El Salvador is said to be due to a secret pact between the Government of Nayib Bukele and the three gangs that control the country: the Mara Salvatrucha, the Barrio 18 Revolucionarios and the Barrio 18 Sureños. The evidence that points to contacts between the country’s President and the leaders of the Maras essentially consists of the improvements in living conditions in the country’s prisons and the benefits granted to the numerous gang members who have never been arrested.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office had nicknamed the case “The Cathedral”. It confiscated numerous official documents from different prison administrations and searched various prisons and the central offices of the country’s Directorate-General for Prisons (DGCP), through which it learned that the Maras imprisoned in maximum-security centres had received clandestine visits from Government officials.

During these visits by public officials, the Director of Prisons, Osiris Luna, authorised hooded individuals to enter the prisons to meet leaders of the three Maras gangs, ignoring all legal admission regulations, including the need to register their presence, and even allowing them in without needing to identify themselves at all. 

The officials of the Public Prosecutor’s Office concluded that these mysterious hooded individuals were usually officials of the current Directorate for the Reconstruction of the Social Fabric, together with leaders of the Maras still at liberty who came to receive instructions from, and transmit information to, the imprisoned gang leaders.

These investigations had revealed the list of demands the gangs had made to the Government in order to maintain their agreement in place. These take the form of a list of 20 points, including the bringing to an end of the large-scale operations of the Army and the Police against the gangs and also to the indiscriminate persecution of the members of the Maras solely because they are tattooed. They also demanded financing for small businesses and employment for their members, family visits to prisoners and changes to the maximum security regime, amongst others.

Since he came to power, President Nayib Bukele has achieved a reduction of violence to levels never previously seen in recent years. The public authorities announced on 8 August, for instance, that zero murders had been committed in the country, and attributed this success to their plan to ensure full control of the national territory. As recently as six years ago, this small Central American country registered 147 murders in the first five days of August, with five policemen among the victims. During the same period this year there have been just five murders.

The Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, with its two factions Los Sureños and Los Revolucionarios, are the major criminal groups existing in El Salvador. The authorities estimate that there are 60,000 active members of the Maras operating in 94% of the municipalities in the country, of which 18,000 are currently in prison.


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Europol: 23 suspects arrested for commercial fraud by email involving COVID-19 equipment

The public authorities of Romania, the Netherlands and Ireland have discovered a sophisticated fraud scheme involving emails and fraudulent advance payment transactions, in an operation coordinated by Europol.

On 10 August, 23 suspects were arrested in a series of operations carried out simultaneously in the Netherlands, in Romania and in Ireland. Raids were carried out at a total of 34 different addresses. It is believed that the alleged criminals concerned have defrauded companies in at least 20 countries for a sum of approximately one million euros.

The fraud was directed by an organised crime group which before the COVID-19 pandemic was already offering other fictional products, such as wooden pallets, for sale online.  Last year the criminals changed their modus operandi and started to offer protective equipment after the pandemic had broken out.

This criminal group, trained by nationals of various African countries living in Europe, created false email addresses and websites similar to those of legitimate companies operating in the wholesale trade. Passing themselves off as the companies concerned, the criminals are thought to have persuaded the victims, mainly European and Asiatic companies, to issue orders and to have requested advance payments so that the goods could be sent to them.

However the goods requested were never delivered, and the funds collected were siphoned off via money-laundering operations into Romanian bank accounts controlled by the criminals, before being withdrawn from automatic cash dispensers.

Since the operations began in 2017, Europol has provided support for this case through the following actions:

• Bringing together investigators from all the national police forces that have collaborated closely with Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) to prepare for the day of the operation.

• Providing continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators.

• Deploying two of its experts in cybercrime in the operations in the Netherlands to provide support to the Dutch authorities for the real-time cross-checking of information and search for the corresponding evidence during the course of the operation. 

Eurojust coordinated judicial cooperation in relation to the investigations and provided support by implementing various instruments of judicial cooperation.

This action was carried out within the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).

The following police authorities participated in the action:

• Romania: National Police (Poliția Română)

• The Netherlands: National Police (Politie)

• Ireland: National Police (An Garda Síochána)

• Europol: European Cybercrime Centre (EC3)


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Operation Pandora: over 56,400 cultural items confiscated and 67 arrests

Despite the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Operation Pandora, which combats the illegal trafficking of cultural items, enjoyed its most successful year to date in 2020, with over 56,400 cultural items confiscated. These objects included archaeological remains, furniture, coins, paintings, musical instruments and sculptures.

Pandora V took place between 1 June and 31 October 2020, with the participation of the Customs and police authorities of 31 different countries.

During the operational phase the authorities conducted tens of thousands of checks not only at various airports, ports and border crossings, but also in auction houses, museums and private houses. As a result, over 300 investigations were opened and 67 individuals were arrested.

Given the global nature of these crimes, operational coordination units working on a 24/7 basis were created by Europol, on the one hand, and by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and INTERPOL, on the other, so as to promote the exchanging of information and to transmit alerts and warnings and carry out investigations in various national and international databases.

This operation was directed by the Spanish Civil Guard with internationally coordinated support from Europol, INTERPOL and the WCO. Pandora V was carried out within the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).

Noteworthy operational data relating to the Pandora V operation

• A total of 27,300 archaeological remains were seized as a result of a single operation undertaken by the French Customs authorities. The suspect arrested now faces a prison sentence and a fine of several hundred thousand euros.

• During investigations on the Internet, Swedish police identified a popular work of art stolen in Sweden in 2019. During the same online auction, the police discovered a pair of 18th-century candelabra stolen from a Swedish church 8 years ago.

• The Italian Carabinieri reported over 2,700 cultural items confiscated, including ceramics, archaeological items, works of art and books for a value of 1,115,000 euros.

• The Greek police carried out 34 arrests and recovered a total of 6,757 antiques, including ceramic and marble artefacts, together with 6,452 coins, of which 5,333 were recovered in one single investigation. In one case, two Greek citizens were arrested for trying to sell 6 antiques made of marble and earthenware for 150,000 euros.

A total of 50 metal detectors were seized, of which 6 were seized directly from archaeological sites.

Europol, as the joint coordinator of this investigation, played a key role in carrying out the entire operation, facilitating the exchange of information and providing analytical and operational support. The WCO also assisted in the exchanging of intelligence between different agencies through a special user group created on its CENComm communications platform.

INTERPOL provided the connection between the participating countries in Western Europe and the Balkans, facilitating the exchanging of information through its system of secure communications.  An expert analyst provided support for the entire operation by checking the searches on the INTERPOL database of stolen works of art in order to locate and identify the stolen articles.


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Combating child abuse online

The European Council and Parliament have reached an interim agreement on a temporary measure to allow providers of electronic communications services, such as web-based email and messaging services, to continue to detect, remove and report child sexual abuse online until permanent legislation announced by the European Commission is in place.

Protecting children against any form of violence or abuse is paramount for the EU. According to Portuguese Minister of State for the Economy and Digital Transition, Pedro Siza Vieira, they have agreed on effective and enforceable temporary rules to ensure that the activities of detecting, removing and reporting illegal material that certain electronic service providers carry out, purely on a voluntary basis, can continue, and the perpetrators can be caught and prosecuted.

In December 2020, the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) entered into application, bringing with it a new definition of electronic communications services. This definition encompasses ‘number-independent interpersonal communications services’ (NI-ICS), which includes messaging services.

Some NI-ICS providers have been using specific technologies to detect child sexual abuse material on their services in order to remove and report it to law enforcement authorities for criminal prosecution.

As the ePrivacy directive of 2002, which ensures the confidentiality of communications and personal data in the electronic communications sector, relies on the definition of electronic communications services in the Code, NI-ICS are now subject to the confidentiality rules of the ePrivacy directive rather than those of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In contrast to the GDPR, the ePrivacy directive does not contain a legal basis for the voluntary processing of content or traffic data for the purpose of detecting child sexual abuse. Therefore, for services falling within the scope of the ePrivacy directive, a specific derogation is needed so that these valuable practices can continue.

The agreement provides for a derogation to articles 5.1 and 6.1 of the ePrivacy directive to allow providers to continue to detect, remove and report child sexual abuse material, and apply anti-grooming technologies. The Charter of Fundamental Rights and the GDPR will continue to apply in any case, and a number of extra safeguards will guarantee that privacy online is respected.

The Commission has announced that it will propose overarching legislation to tackle child sexual abuse online by the second quarter of 2021. That legislation will aim to provide a long-term solution to replace this temporary measure.

The interim regulation will apply for three years or until an earlier date if the permanent legal instrument is adopted by the legislators and repeals these temporary rules before then.


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Serious and organised crime in the European Union

Europol has recently published a threat assessment of serious and organised crime in the European Union (EU), the SOCTA 2021. Published every four years, the SOCTA presents a detailed analysis of the threat of serious and organised crime facing the EU.

The SOCTA 2021 details the operations of criminal networks in the EU and how their criminal activities and commercial practices threaten to infiltrate and undermine our societies, economies and institutions, slowly weakening the rule of law. The report provides unprecedented information on Europe’s criminal underworld based on the analysis of thousands of cases and information supplied o Europol.

The key findings to come out of the SOCTA 2021 include:

Serious and organised crime has never posed such an extreme threat to the EU and its citizens as it does today.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic and social consequences expected to follow, threaten to create the ideal conditions for organised crime to spread throughout the EU and beyond. A key characteristic of criminal networks, once more confirmed by the pandemic, is their agility in adapting to and capitalising on changes in the environment in which they operate.

Similar to a business environment, the core of a criminal network is composed of managerial layers and field operators. This core is surrounded by a range of actors linked to the crime infrastructure providing support services.

With close to 40% of criminal networks involved in the manufacture and trafficking of drugs, it remains the most significant criminal activity in the EU.

The traffic and exploitation of human beings, smuggling of immigrants, online and offline fraud and property crimes pose significant threats to EU citizens.

Criminals use corruption. Almost 60 % of the criminal groups reported on engage in corruption.

Criminals earn and launder billions of euros every year. The scale and complexity of money laundering activities in the EU have previously been underestimated. Professional money launderers have established a parallel underground financial system and use any means to infiltrate and undermine European economies and societies.

Legal business structures are used to facilitate virtually all types of criminal activity with an impact on the EU. More than 80 % of the criminal networks active in the EU use legal business structures for their illegal activities.

The use of violence by criminals involved in serious and organised crime in the EU appears to have been increasing in terms of the frequency of use and its severity. The threat from violent incidents has been augmented by the frequent use of firearms or explosives in public.

Criminals are digitally proficient. Virtually all criminal activities now feature some online component, and many crimes have migrated completely online. Criminals exploit encrypted communications to network with each other and use social media and instant messaging services to reach a larger audience to advertise illegal goods or spread disinformation.


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