RIO DE JANEIRO — At least 60 inmates died during a prison riot in the northern state of Amazonas, including several who were beheaded or dismembered, in the biggest killing at a Brazilian prison since 1992.
Authorities said the riot apparently grew out of a fight between two of the country's biggest crime gangs over control of prisons and drug routs in northern Brazil.
Amazonas state public security secretary Sergio Fontes said that in addition to the deaths, some inmates escaped from the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex in Manaus, but he did not say how many. He added that 40 had been recaptured.
Twelve prison guards were held hostage by the inmates, though none was wounded during the riot that began Sunday afternoon and ended Monday morning.
"This is the biggest prison massacre in our state's history," Fontes said during a press conference. "What happened here is another chapter of the war that narcos are waging on this country and it shows that this problem cannot be tackled only by state governments."
Fontes confirmed that many of the dead had been beheaded and Judge Luis Carlos Valois, who negotiated the end of the riot with inmates, said he saw many bodies that were quartered.
"I never saw anything like that in my life. All those bodies, the blood," Valois wrote on Facebook.
It was the largest death toll during a Brazilian prison riot since the killing of 111 inmates by police officers in the Carandiru penitentiary in Sao Paulo in 1992. Police said they acted in self-defense then.
Two other prisons in Manaus also reported riots on Monday. In one of them 87 prisoners escaped, including one that posted a picture of him on Facebook as he left. Amazonas police are investigating whether there is a link between the incidents in the three prisons.
By the end of Monday afternoon Amazonas state police said the situation had become stable in all three prisons.
Brazilian daily Estado de S.Paulo later reported that federal police were investigating whether Valois has links to one of the gangs involved in the incident.
Fontes said the inmates made few demands to end the riot, which hints at a killing spree organized by members of a local gang, the Family of the North, against those of the First Command of the Capital that is based in Sao Paulo.
The secretary said that officers found a hole in a prison wall through which weapons entered the building. A policeman was wounded in exchange of fire with the inmates. Several firearms were found in the post-riot search by police.
The First Command, nationally known as PCC, is the most powerful drug and prison gang in Brazil and it has been trying to extend its reach to northern prisons dominated by the Family of the North. To counter, Family of the North associated with the Red Commando of Rio de Janeiro, the second biggest crime gang in Brazil.
Valois said that during the negotiations, inmates only asked "that we did not transfer them, made sure they were not attacked and kept their visitation."
The riot ended after the inmates freed the last of the 12 prison staffers they had held hostage, Valois said.