A riot in an overcrowded prison in the Amazon jungle city of Manaus in northern Brazil has left at least 60 inmates dead, with many of them decapitated, officials said on Monday.
The riot was sparked by a war between rival drug gangs, officials added – in the worst violence in over two decades in Brazil’s overcrowded penitentiary system.
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.
The riot began on Sunday evening and was brought under control by around 7 a.m on Monday, Fontes said.
Authorities were still counting the prisoners to determine how many had escaped, he added.
Just as the riot began in one unit of the Anisio Jobim prison complex, dozens of prisoners in the second unit started a mass escape in what authorities said was a coordinated effort to distract guards.
Overcrowding is extremely common in Brazil’s prisons, which suffer endemic violence and what rights groups call medieval conditions with cells so crowded to the extent prisoners have no space to lie down and food is scarce.
There are some 600,000 inmates in the country with reports saying that the capacity of the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Centre, the biggest in Amazonas, was for 454 inmates, but it had 1,224 men.