Pandemonium in Brazil as armed men early Monday blew down the front gate of a maximum security prison in the northeastern part of the country, allowing 92 inmates to escape while killing a policeman.
Officials 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.
The prison, a maximum security facility with 680 inmates, is located in Joao Pessoa, the capital of Paraiba state. A policeman shot in the assault later died in hospital.
“Heavily armed men knocked down the main gate after an exchange of fire with police and penitentiary agents,” the state’s secretariat for prisons 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 over a thousand police officers went on the search.
State prisons secretariat head, Colonel Sergio Fonseca de Souza, said the aim of the assault 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, according to official statistics.
The population is double the capacity of the nation’s prisons, which in 2016 was estimated to be 368,049 inmates.
Along with severe overcrowding, Brazil’s prisons are plagued by gang violence, and riots and breakout attempts are not uncommon.