The murder comes at a time when Ecuador is reeling from a surge in violence related to drug trafficking in which rivals gangs have sown terror in Guayaquil and its prison system.

Escobar's murder comes soon after the disappearance of lawyer Maria Belen Bernal, 34, from a police school in Quito.
Escobar's murder comes soon after the disappearance of lawyer Maria Belen Bernal, 34, from a police school in Quito. (AFP)

A prosecutor who investigated hate crimes and femicide was murdered outside the Ecuadoran public prosecutor's office in Guayaquil, the government body has said.

Edgar Escobar was shot on Monday morning by gunmen outside the building where he worked in the port city, the public prosecutor's office said on Twitter.

The murder comes at a time when Ecuador is reeling from a surge in violence related to drug trafficking in which rivals gangs have sown terror in Guayaquil and its prison system.

Ecuador lies between Colombia and Peru, the world's two largest producers of cocaine. The motive for the crime is still unknown.

The public prosecutor's office said two suspects were arrested during a police operation on a hill in the city, the country's commercial hub.

"In the police action a motorbike and the weapon used to shoot the victim were seized," said the public prosecutor's office.

Crimes on the rise

Last month, a judge in the Amazonian town of Lago Agrio on the border with Colombia was shot dead.

And two months ago, the public prosecutor in the port town of Manta was also killed by gunmen.

Escobar's murder comes soon after the disappearance of lawyer Maria Belen Bernal, 34, from a police school in Quito.

A week ago, Bernal went to the school to visit her husband, German Caceres, who worked there.

He has been on the run since giving a statement to investigators looking into a possible femicide. The government fired him and also removed the head of the school.

Crime has been on the rise in the country of 18 million. In 2021, the murder rate almost doubled from the previous year to 14 per 100,000 inhabitants.

After Escobar's murder, Yanina Villagomez, the prosecutor of Guayas province where Guayaquil is located, called on police to step up security and provide greater protection for officials.

A succession of bloody prison riots have also left almost 400 inmates dead since February 2021, and at least 573 women have been killed since 2014 in cases considered femicide.

In 2022 alone there have been 206 murders of women, according to Geraldine Guerra from the Aldea NGO that tracks femicide in the country.

Authorities seized a record 210 tons of drugs in 2021, and have already seized 150 tons this year.

READ MORE: Ecuador imposes state of emergency on several cities in fight against crime

Source: AFP