Sao Paulo, Brazil – A prison riot in the Brazilian Amazon has left at least 56 people dead with some bodies decapitated and burned, officials said.
The riot erupted on Sunday afternoon and lasted for 17 hours in the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex (Compaj) in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state.
The rioters took 12 guards hostage and a still unconfirmed number of prisoners escaped.
“What happened in Compaj is another chapter of the war that drug trafficking imposes in this country and shows that this problem cannot be faced only by [Brazilian] states,” said Sergio Fontes, head of public security for Amazonas.
He called the riot “the worst massacre in the history of the state’s penitentiary system”.
Fontes’s department lowered the death toll to 56 from an earlier count of 60.
Fontes said at a press conference the state requested support from Brazil’s federal government for help to combat drug trafficking and strengthen the security of prison units.
“It is not only a problem of the penitentiary system and it is not an isolated case in the country, but much greater since the dispute inside the prisons is an extension of the war that also happens outside,” he said
The killings occurred over a feud between rival criminal factions, the Sao Paulo-based First Capital Command (PCC) and a local Amazonian crime group Family of the North (FDN) who are engaged in a long-term dispute over controlling prisons, drug trafficking routes, and territory in the region reeling from drug violence.
“One group is trying to eliminate the other so they can dominate the prison system,” said Marluce da Costa Sousa, coordinator of the Amazonas state branch of Pastoral Carceraria – a prisoner advocate group linked to the Catholic church.
“It’s about profit,” she told Al Jazeera.
Amazonian public security authorities confirmed that firearms were used during the riot and inmates exchanged gunfire with police officers