At least 57 prisoners have been killed by other inmates during clashes between organised crime groups in the Altamira prison in northern Brazil on Monday morning with 16 of the victims being beheaded while others suffocated after the prison buildings were set on fire, according to prison officials.
Para state authorities said that the riot began around 7 a.m., between the Rio de Janerio- based Commando Vermelho and a local criminal group known as Commando Classe A.
The count of victims could rise when authorities have searched all areas involved, state prisons chief Jarbas Vasconcelos said at a news conference.
The fire prevented police forces from entering the building for several hours, he added.
State prisons chief Jarbas Vasconcelos said a fight between criminal groups at the Altamira prison erupted around in the morning, when breakfast was being served.
Two prison staff members were held hostage, but eventualy released. “It was a targeted attack. The aim was to show that it was a settling of accounts between the two groups, not a protest or rebellion against the prison system,” Vasconcelos said.
Authorities have not found any firearms following the riot, only makeshift knives.
Prison authorities said 46 inmates will be transferred to other prisons. 10 of which will go to stricter federal facilities.
The Associated Press obtained a July 2019 report from the National Justice Council that it says was filed by a local judge in charge of the facility, showing that the prison had 343 detainees for a maximum capacity of 163.
The judge who filed the report described the overall state of the prison in the city of Altamira as “terrible.”
Inmates also set fires and roadblocks that prevented authorities from entering parts of the facility for about five hours, he said.
Brazilian officials said that the government is investigating the attack.
The killings echoed those of 55 inmates who died in a series of riots in May in several prisons in the neighbouring state of Amazonas.
According to the report, in early 2017, more than 120 inmates died in prisons across several northern states when rival gangs clashed over control of drug-trafficking routes in the region. The violence lasted several weeks, spreading to various states.
Last year, inmates had already set fire to another wing inside the same prison unit, according to the state prosecutors’ office. Along with severe overcrowding, Brazil’s prisons are plagued by gang violence, while riots and breakout attempts are not uncommon.