Gunmen storm Brazil prison, policeman killed as 92 inmates escape

This file photo taken on January 18, 2017 shows inmates returning to the pavilions just before the special police battalion invaded the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center to regain control of the penitentiary in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil. (AFP)
Updated 11 September 2018

Gunmen storm Brazil prison, policeman killed as 92 inmates escape

  • The population is double the capacity of the nation’s prisons, which in 2016 was estimated to be 368,049 inmates

SAO PAULO: Heavily armed men blew down the front gate of a maximum security prison in northeastern Brazil early Monday and with guns blazing enabled 92 inmates to escape while killing a policeman, authorities said.
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.
A policeman shot in the assault later died in hospital. There were no other reports of deaths or injuries.
The prison, a maximum security facility with 680 inmates, is located in Joao Pessoa, the capital of Paraiba state.
“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 centers as a precaution.
More than a thousand police officers were mobilized to take part in the search, authorities said.
State prisons secretariat head, Col. 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.
“The whole of Brazil is going through this situation,” military police Col. Euller Chaves told reporters.
Along with severe overcrowding, Brazil’s prisons are plagued by gang violence, and riots and breakout attempts are not uncommon.

In April, a military-style battle erupted between guards and prisoners aided by outside associates, leaving 21 people dead at a prison in Belem, near the Amazon rainforest.
The attackers in that case also were heavily armed and tried to blow up a wall to help the would-be escapees. One policeman was killed alongside 20 prisoners and their associates.
In February, 18 people were taken hostage during a prison riot near Rio de Janeiro, although guards managed to retake control without anyone being killed.
A month earlier, though, another prison riot in the central state of Goias ended in a blaze that left nine people dead.
A year before that, Brazilian police had to launch a massive manhunt after 184 inmates escaped from two prisons in Amazonas state following a gruesome 17-hour bloodbath between rival gangs that left 56 prisoners dead, many beheaded.
President Michel Temer then vowed to build new prisons in every state to relieve overcrowding.
But another 26 prisoners were killed, most beheaded, in another massacre in a northeastern prison later that same month, after which the government called in the army to help restore order.
The country’s two biggest gangs have been at war, with much of the violence, at times savage, carried out in prisons.
In October 2016, 18 inmates were killed after violence broke out on successive days in two separate jails in the north, with some of the dead decapitated and others burned alive.


Kartarpur corridor deal between Pakistan and India to be signed on Oct. 24

Updated 7 min 25 sec ago

Kartarpur corridor deal between Pakistan and India to be signed on Oct. 24

  • Border crossing will give Indian Sikhs visa-free access to Darbar Sahib in Pakistan

NEW DELHI, LAHORE: India has postponed signing a deal that will allow Sikhs to visit a holy shrine in neighboring Pakistan without a visa, a Foreign Ministry official in New Delhi was reported as saying.

The Kartarpur Corridor connects the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib, in India’s Punjab region, to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan. 

The visa-free border crossing will be inaugurated next month, days ahead of one of Sikhism’s most sacred festivals and the 550th birthday of the religion’s founder.

Media reports said that the signing of the deal had been pushed back by a day to Oct. 24 and that C. L. Das, an official handling internal security at India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, would meet Pakistan officials along the border to sign the agreement.

The corridor is a rare example of cooperation and diplomacy between the two South Asian rivals, who came to the brink of war in February following a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir. 

Ties nose-dived further in August when India flooded its portion of the disputed valley with troops, imposed a communications lockdown and revoked the special legal status of the territory.

But finalizing the corridor project has proved tricky.

Earlier this week, India’s External Affairs Ministry said it was disappointed by Pakistan’s decision to levy a $20 service fee per pilgrim.

“It is a matter of disappointment that while understanding has been reached on most of the elements for facilitating the visit of pilgrims from India, Pakistan continue to insist on levying a service fee,” said the ministry. “Government has consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of the pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee. While agreeing to sign the agreement, the government of Pakistan has been once again urged to reconsider its insistence to levy service fee on pilgrims. India would be ready to amend the agreement accordingly at any time.”

The connecting bridge at the border was also a significant issue. India favored an elevated bridge but Pakistan was only willing to build an embankment, fearing a possible breach in security.

New Delhi said all the infrastructure was in place in time for the project’s inauguration, which is expected to be attended by former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Islamabad has also invited Singh to be part of the inaugural ceremony but he has yet to accept. Despite the bumps in the road Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was upbeat about the unveiling.

“Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on the Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to the public on 9th November 2019,” he posted on Facebook. “World’s largest gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the world.”

Although the opening of the corridor is unlikely to lead to any kind of bilateral engagement or rapprochement between the two nations, Sikhs will be relieved that it is easier to access the shrine in Kartarpur. 

The community has long sought easier access to Kartarpur, a village just four kilometers over the border in Pakistan, as it used to demand a lengthy visa and travel process.

Pilgrims will get special permits to access the shrine. Up to 5,000 pilgrims will be allowed to access the corridor daily.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Indian side of the corridor, but it is unclear if he will cross into Pakistan afterwards.