No fewer than 52 inmates were killed in a prison riot in northern Brazil today as rival gang factions fought each other.
Sixteen of the dead were decapitated in the second major eruption of violence to rock the country’s severely overpopulated and deadly prison system in as many months. Fighting broke out in the Altamira Regional Recovery Center at around 7:00 am (1000 GMT), an official from the Para state government’s penitentiary department told AFP.
Two guards were taken hostage during the hours-long clashes, which were brought under control at around midday. They were eventually freed. Brazilian TV stations showed footage of thick black smoke rising from the prison compound and people sitting on the roof of a building.
Other images showed flames inside a building that almost reached the ceiling and people, apparently prisoners, sitting on the ground outside. “It is likely that many detainees died from asphyxiation (from smoke),” the government official said, adding the death toll could rise.
Around 300 prisoners were being held at the jail, the official said, which reportedly has a capacity for 200.
An outbreak of violence in the same prison in September 2018 left at least seven inmates dead. Guards had apparently foiled an attempted prison escape. In May this year, at least 55 prisoners were killed in several jails in the neighboring state of Amazonas in violence also blamed on an apparent drug trafficking gang dispute.