Three inmates have been beheaded and another seven killed in fighting between rival gangs in a Brazilian prison, according to reports.The deaths happened after a riot broke out at the Alcacuz Penitentiary, just south of the city of Natal in eastern Brazil.
Prisoners from a criminal faction in one cell block are said to have invaded another cell block occupied by their rivals. The violence at the largest jail in Rio Grande do Norte state is the latest in a series of massacres at the country’s prisons.
Zemilton Silva, the state’s co-ordinator of the prison system, told G1 Globo news website: “We could see the heads ripped off” three inmates. Police have surrounded the jail and blocked off all access routes but said they were waiting until dawn before trying to bring the situation under control.
Mr Silva said he did not know if other cell blocks have been affected. The jail houses nearly twice as many inmates as it was designed to with about 1,150 living there, compared to the 650 it was built to support.
Just last week, dozens more inmates died in riots in northern and Amazonian Brazil. Some 56 inmates were killed during another fight at a prison in Manaus on New Year’s Day.
Authorities said a gang called Family of the North targeted members of Brazil’s most powerful criminal gang, First Command, known by the Portuguese acronym PCC. Many of the dead were beheaded and dismembered.
On 6 January, violent clashes at Monte Cristo prison in Boa Vista left 33 dead. It is believed many of the clashes involve gangs that are fighting for control of the supply of drugs.
Experts also say that PCC is exploiting overcrowding in the Brazil’s jails to expand its reach across the national prison system. The gang network controls the supply and trafficking of drugs both inside and outside prisons even though many of its leaders are in maximum security jails.
An official report in 2014 said Brazil has the world’s fourth largest prison population, after the United States, China and Russia.