Rioting inmates of a jail in Brazil, decapitated their rivals in a clash between two gangs that left 56 dead, while 144 prisoners escaped, officials said yesterday.
The riot, which broke out at a prison on the outskirts of Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, on Sunday afternoon, raged through the night, according to state public security secretary Sergio Fontes.
An AFP photographer who was present at the scene said bloodied and burned bodies were stacked in a concrete prison yard and piled in carts.
The toll was later lowered to 56 from an earlier count of 60 by Fontes' department.
The fighting ranked as the most bloody of the numerous prison riots across Latin America in the past decade and, according to Fontes, it was "the biggest massacre" ever committed at a prison in the state.
Outside, heavily armed police hunted for dozens of inmates who fled the scene through a series of tunnels discovered at the Anisio Jobim penitentiary complex.
According to Fontes' department, 112 prisoners escaped from that prison and another 72 from the nearby Antonio Trindade Penal Institute and only 40 were captured.
Police managed to regain control of the situation last morning and freed 12 guards who had been taken hostage, Fontes said.
"This was another chapter in the silent and ruthless war of drug trafficking," Reuters quoted him as saying.
According to Pedro Florencia, the Amazonas state prison secretary, the massacre was a "revenge killing" in a feud between criminal gangs in Brazil.
Just as the riot started in one unit of the Anisio Jobim prison complex, dozens of prisoners in the second unit started a mass escape in what according to prison authorities was a coordinated effort to distract guards.
Overcrowding is very common in Brazil's prisons and inmates have little space to lie down. Violent clashes break out frequently under what rights groups call ''medieval conditions''.