Forty-six inmates involved in one of Brazil's deadliest prison riots were being transferred to other jails on Tuesday, an official said. At least 57 people were killed on Monday when fighting broke out between rival drug gang factions in the Altamira Regional Recovery Centre in the northern state of Para.
Sixteen were decapitated in the hours-long battle, but most died in a fire that engulfed part of the overcrowded facility that used converted shipping containers to house some of the inmates.
It was the second major eruption of violence to rock the country's severely overpopulated and deadly prison system in as many months.
Inmates involved in the fighting, including 16 leaders suspected of ordering the riot, were being transported on Tuesday by bus or plane to detention facilities, including federal prisons, in the capital Belem, an official from the state government's penitentiary department reported
Most of the bodies have been recovered from the jail and clean up operations were under way, she said. The government is providing financial assistance to the families of the dead to help pay for funerals, she added.
Experts estimate hundreds of prisoners are killed in Brazilian prisons every year, mostly in confrontations between rival gangs battling for control of one of the world's most important cocaine markets and trafficking routes.
Monday's riot was one of the deadliest in Brazil in decades. The turf war involved members of Class A Command and Red Command, one of the country's main crime groups, officials said.
In May, at least 55 inmates were killed at several jails in the neighboring state of Amazonas, in violence also blamed on an apparent drug trafficking gang dispute.
In 1992, 111 prisoners were killed when security forces put down a mutiny at the enormous Carandiru jail outside Sao Paulo.
Brazil has the world's third-largest prison population after the United States and China, with 726,354 inmates as of June 2017, according to the latest official statistics released this month.
The population is way above the capacity of the nation's jails, which in the same year was estimated to be 423,242 inmates. Around 33% of the prison population is made up of pretrial detainees.
The National Justice Council, a government agency monitoring prisons, rated conditions inside the jail as very bad and said the facility was holding more than twice as many prisoners as it was equipped to handle. It also had a shortage of guards.
Prisoners belonging to the Comando Classe A gang set fire to a cell containing inmates from the rival Comando Vermelho, or Red Command, gang, Para’s state government said in a statement.
Most of the dead died in the fire, they said, while two guards were taken hostage, but later released.
It was a targeted act, state prison director Jarbas Vasconcelos said in the statement, adding there was no prior intelligence that suggested an attack would take place. The aim was to show that it was a settling of accounts between the two gangs.
The Red Command hails from Rio de Janeiro, but has expanded deep into northern Brazil as it seeks to diversify its income.
That expansion has often led to confrontations with Brazil’s largest and most powerful gang, the First Capital Command, headquartered in Sao Paulo.
The Comando Classe A gang is seen as a relatively small gang, and is little known outside Para. Its high-profile attack against the Red Command could give it a nationwide reputation.