A prison rebellion in São Luis, in the north-eastern state of Maranhão, Brazil, has left 13 dead and more than 30 injured.
Rioting between rival gangs held in the 600-inmate jail, Complexo Penitenciario de Pedrinhas, broke out on Wednesday evening after prisoners refused to allow an inspection of their cells by wardens, starting a confrontation with officers, according to Késsio Rabelo, from the Department of Justice and Corrections.
The stand-off sparked violent clashes between opposing prison factions. The situation rapidly spiralled out of control with executions of inmates occurring throughout the institution.
“The uprising began after wardens discovered that 60 prisoners were digging a tunnel through which they intended to escape,” said Aluísio Mendes, Secretary of Public Security in Maranhão. “When prison officials tried to access the block, the prisoners rebelled.”
Rioters set fire to the prison blocks and barricaded themselves in. Special elite “Choque” troops were sent in to contain the situation. Pistols, homemade bombs and other lethal weapons were found inside the cells.
A representative from the Commission on Human Rights for Brazil’s legal profession, Diogo Cabral, who was present as an observer at the scene said: “I am very shocked at what happened. If the Choque troops had been dispatched earlier maybe the barbarism and the death toll could have been avoided.”
Relatives and onlookers outside the prison reacted angrily by throwing stones in an attempt to break into the prison. Seven buses in the city centre were also set on fire by a marauding gang in retaliation and the hospital where the injured were taken had to be manned by extra police after threats were made to invade the complex.
An earlier outbreak of gang violence on Tuesday left three prisoners dead at the same prison. One was decapitated. Two other inmates and one prison guard were wounded. The mutiny ended the same day with the arrival of the elite troops.
In a statement, a local government spokesman said this week’s arrest of 39 members of one of the largest gangs in the municipality had fuelled the unrest.