Officials say 57 dead in Brazil prison riot; 16 decapitated

Brazil Prison Riot

At least 57 prisoners were killed by other inmates during clashes between organised crime groups in the Altamira prison in northern Brazil Monday with 16 of the victims being decapitated, according to prison officials.

Para state prison authorities a fight erupted around 7 a.m., between the Rio de Janeiro-based Comando Vermelho and a local criminal group known as Comando Classe A.

"Leaders of the (Comando Classe A) set fire to a cell belonging to one of the prison's pavilions, where members of the (Comando Vermelho) were located," the statement read.

State prisons chief Jarbas Vasconcelos said the fire had spread rapidly, with inmates held in old container units that had been adapted for the prison while another building is under construction.

The fire prevented police forces from entering the building for several hours, he told a news conference.

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At least 52 prisoners have been killed by other inmates during clashes between rival gangs at Altamira prison in northern Brazil. .
Brazil prison riots - AFP
A police officer patrols the surroundings of the Altamira Regional Recovery Centre after t least 52 inmates were killed in a prison riot, in the Brazilian northern city of Altamira, Para State, on July 29, 2019. - At least 52 inmates were killed in a prison riot as rival gang factions fought each other, an official said. 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. Two guards were taken hostage during the hours-long clashes, which were brought under control at around midday. They were eventually freed. (Photo by Bruno SANTOS / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRUNO SANTOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Officials say 57 dead in Brazil prison riot; 16 decapitated
Relatives of inmates wait for information about their loved ones after a riot at the Altamira Regional Recovery Centre in the Brazilian northern city of Altamira, Para State, on July 29, 2019. - At least 52 inmates were killed in a prison riot as rival gang factions fought each other, an official said. 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. Two guards were taken hostage during the hours-long clashes, which were brought under control at around midday. They were eventually freed. (Photo by Bruno SANTOS / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRUNO SANTOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Prisoners (C) are seen during transfer to a federal jail, after a riot in a prison in the city of Altamira, Brazil, July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
Adds jpeg; map shows location of Brazil prison riot; 2c x 3 1/2 inches; 96.3 mm x 88 mm;
At least 57 people were killed and 16 decapitated in a Brazil prison as rival gangs battled for five hours. CBS News' Cindy Pom joins CBSN AM with that story and other major news from around the world in this morning's World View.
Plus: Mystery surrounds a court case involving Emirati Sheikh Mohammed and his wife, and a Thai soup has been brewing for 45 years.
More than 50 dead in Brazil prison riot
Brazil prison riot: At least 52 killed in clashes between crime gangs
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Two prison staff members were held hostage, but eventually 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.

President Jair Bolsonaro was elected on the promise of curbing widespread violence in Brazil, including in the country's often overcrowded, out-of-control prisons.

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.

Yet Vasconcelos said the situation did not meet the official requirements to be considered overcrowded. "It is not a unit that has a prison overcrowding, we consider overcrowding when it exceeds 210%," Vasconcelos said during the press conference.

The judge who filed the report described the overall state of the prison in the city of Altamira as "terrible."

In many of Brazil's prisons, badly outnumbered guards struggle to retain power over an ever-growing population of inmates who are able to run criminal activities from behind bars.

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.

BRAZIL-RIOT-PRISON-ALCACUZIn 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.

Para state authorities spent the afternoon in Altamira, drafting a security plan to avoid possible retaliations in the region. Police forces from the nearby municipality of Santerem were sent as reinforcement in the coming weeks.

Prison authorities said they had not received any prior intelligence reports of an upcoming attack.

The prison is run directly by the state, not a third-party private operator as in the Manaus prisons where the riots took place in May.

Last year, inmates had already set fire to another wing inside the same prison unit, according to the state prosecutors' office.

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