Policeman killed and 92 inmates escape as gunmen storm Brazil prison
Heavily armed men blew down the front gate of a maximum-security prison in north-eastern Brazil early on Monday, and with guns blazing enabled 92 inmates to escape.
Authorities said the assault was carried out by about 20 men in four vehicles who fired on watchtowers and used explosives to destroy the front gate of the Romeu Goncalves Abrantes prison.
A policeman was shot and later died in hospital.
The prison, a facility with 680 inmates, is located in Joao Pessoa, the capital of Paraiba state.
“Heavily armed men knocked down the main gate after an exchange of fire with police and penitentiary agents,” state secretariat for prisons, Colonel Sergio Fonseca de Souza, said.
By midday, 41 of the 92 escaped prisoners had been recaptured as security forces locked down the state capital, closing schools and medical centres as a precaution.
More than 1,000 police officers were mobilised to take part in the search, authorities said.
Mr de Souza said the break-in was to free three suspects arrested a year ago for an armed assault using explosives.
Brazil has the world’s third largest prison population, with 726,712 inmates as of June 2016.
The population is double the capacity of the nation’s other prisons, which in 2016 was estimated to be 368,049 inmates.
“The whole of Brazil is going through this situation,” military police Colonel Euller Chaves told reporters.
Along with severe overcrowding, the country’s prisons are plagued by gang violence and riots, and breakout attempts are common.
In April, a military-style battle erupted between guards and prisoners aided by outside associates, leaving 21 people dead in Belem, near the Amazon rainforest.
The attackers were heavily armed and tried to blow up a wall to help the would-be escapees. One policeman was killed alongside 20 prisoners and their associates.
In February, 18 people were taken hostage during a prison riot near Rio de Janeiro, although guards managed to retake control without anyone being killed.
A month earlier, another prison riot in the central state of Goias ended in a blaze that left nine people dead.
A year before, Brazilian police had to launch a manhunt after 184 inmates escaped from two prisons in Amazonas state following a 17-hour bloodbath between rival gangs that left 56 prisoners dead — many beheaded.
President Michel Temer then vowed to build new prisons in every state to relieve overcrowding.
But another 26 prisoners were killed, most beheaded, in another massacre in a north-eastern prison later that month, after which the government called in the army to restore order.
The country’s two biggest gangs have been at war, with much of the violence carried out in prisons.
In October 2016, 18 inmates were killed in two jails in the north, with some of the dead decapitated and others burned alive.