At least 56 prisoners were killed and over 100 escaped during a grisly 17-hour prison riot spurred by drug gangs in one of Brazil’s most overcrowded penitentiaries on Monday, the statewide Agencia Brasil news agency reported.
The riot broke out Sunday afternoon and lasted through the night at Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Center, a prison on the outskirts of Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, state public security secretary Sergio Fontes said.
Bodies were thrown over prison walls and at least six were decapitated, making it “the biggest massacre” ever committed at a prison in the state said Fontes.
Bloodied and burned bodies were stacked in a concrete prison yard and piled in carts, said an AFP photographer at the scene.
Families have been called to the local morgue to identify the victims.
Heavily-armed police are on the hunt for the fugitives, some of whom may have escaped through a series of tunnels discovered at the Anisio Jobim penitentiary complex.
Fontes's department has later reported that 112 prisoners escaped from that prison and another 72 from the nearby Antonio Trindade Penal Institute.
Just 40 of the escapees were recaptured, he added.
The fighting broke out Sunday between rival groups over the control of the prison and drug routes, resulting in one of the deadliest and most gruesome prison riots in Latin America in over two decades.
"This was another chapter in the silent and ruthless war of drug trafficking," said state public security secretary Sergio Fontes to journalists.
He added that the gruesome scene appeared to be aimed at sending a message from the Family of the North (FDN), a powerful local gang, to rivals from the First Capital Command (PCC), one of Brazil's largest gangs, whose base is in Sao Paulo, some 2,700 kilometers to the southeast.
It is believed that members of the North Family attacked members of the PCC at the request of Brazil's second largest drug gang, the Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command (CV), in the latest of a series of clashes, Reuters reported.
"During the negotiations (to end the riot), the prisoners had almost no demands," Fontes told local radio network Tiradentes. "We think they had already done what they wanted: kill members of the rival organization."
According to Globo TV, 12 prison guards and 74 prisoners were taken hostage during the riot, which at times resulted in exchanges of gunfire between gang members and police.
The guards were later released, but many of the inmates killed.
Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Center is the largest prison in the state but with Brazil having the fourth-largest prison population in the world, there is a serious issue of overcrowding and ongoing violence.
Human rights groups have long complained about the conditions in Brazilian prisons.
As of the end of 2014, about 622,000 people were imprisoned in Brazil, most of them black males according to a justice ministry report. Brazil's prisons need 50 percent more capacity to handle the current number of inmates, the justice ministry report found.
The capacity at Anisio Jobim was reported as 454 inmates, but held 1,224.
(Staff with AFP)