In one of the worst prison riots in Brazil in recent times, 60 people were killed in the riot sparked by a war between rival drug gangs in the Amazon jungle city of Manaus.
The head of security for Amazonas state, Sergio Fontes, told a news conference that the death toll could rise as authorities get a clearer idea of the scale of the rebellion sparked by a fight between rival drug gangs.
Manaus’ Em Tempo newspaper reported that several of the dead had their decapitated bodies thrown over the prison wall.
A group of inmates exchanged gunfire with police and held 12 prison guards hostage late on Sunday in the largest prison in Manaus, an industrial city on the banks of the Amazon River, Globo TV reported.
Authorities said that 74 prisoners were taken hostage during the riot, with some executed and some released.
Family members of inmates said they were desperate to know the state of their loved ones inside.
“My son is an inmate there. He’s not related to the police [meaning police do not care about him the way she does]. I want to know how my son is, my son’s in there. This is a bullet [shows bullet casing],” the mother of an inmate said after the riot broke out early on Sunday.
Also on Sunday, Fontes said authorities were taking into account the number of people killed and also looking for inmates who had escaped during the chaos.
“There were deaths, unfortunately. We have some outside the prison who were thrown from the prison by the inmates themselves. There’ve been escapes. We don’t know yet how many. We’re already looking for the escapees in the forest and highways,” Fontes said.
The riot began late Sunday (January 1) and was brought under control by around 7 a.m. on Monday, Fontes later said during Monday’s news conference.
Authorities were still counting the prisoners to determine how many had escaped, he added.
International watchdog groups have sharply criticized Brazil for its prison system, where overcrowding is the norm and riots a routine break out.
The massacre was the latest clash between inmates aligned with the Sao Paulo-based First Capital Command (PCC) drug gang, Brazil’s most powerful, and a local Manaus criminal group known as the North Family.
The Manaus-based gang is widely believed to be attacking PCC inmates at the behest of the Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command (CV) drug gang, Brazil’s second largest.
Security analysts have said that a truce that was held for years between the PCC and CV was broken last year, resulting in months of deadly prison battles between the gangs and sparking fears that chaos will spread to other prisons.
Brazil’s prison system is precariously overcrowded and conditions in many institutions are horrific. That has sparked a rash of deadly riots in recent years.
Sunday’s riot was the deadliest in years. A 1992 rebellion at the Carandiru prison in Sao Paulo state saw 111 inmates killed, nearly all of them by police as they retook the jail.
(With inputs from agencies)