BRASILIA — Police in northern Brazil are searching for dozens of inmates who escaped from an overcrowded prison complex during a riot that left 56 dead, officials say.
The area in Manaus, in Amazonas state, has been isolated. Officials say 40 out of 87 fugitives have been recaptured.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s justice minister said on Tuesday that the instigators will be transferred to higher security federal prisons. As soon as these ringleaders are identified, at the request of the Manaus state government they will be transferred, said the minister, Alexandre de Moraes.
The violence began on Sunday and ended 17 hours later. It was the deadliest prison riot in Brazil in years. Officials said the riot at the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Centre, the biggest in Amazonas, was sparked by fighting between rival gangs over the control of prisons and drug routes.
Sergio Fontes, the security chief for Amazonas state, told reporters several decapitated bodies were thrown over the wall of the prison in the Amazon city of Manaus, with most of those killed coming from the Sao Paulo-based First Capital Command (PCC) drug gang.
“This was another chapter in the silent and ruthless war of drug trafficking,” he said.
Pedro Florencio, the Amazonas state prison secretary, said the massacre was a “revenge killing” in a feud between criminal gangs in Brazil.
The violence began late Sunday and was brought under control by around 7 a.m. AMT (1100 GMT) on Monday, Fontes said.
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.