Police hold back the relatives of inmates outside the Apodaca correctional state facility as they try to get past the gates in Apodaca on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico. Hans-Maximo Musielik/AP

Mexico prison riot 'may have been cover for breakout'

Security officials believe a riot which killed 44 prisoners at the Apodaca prison may have been staged to cover a breakout.

A PRISON RIOT which killed 44 prisoners in Mexico yesterday may have been staged to cover an attempted breakout, a security official has said.

Nuevo Leon state public security spokesman Jorge Domene Zambrano said the riot – which broke out at about 2am in a high-security section of a state prison in the city of Apodaca, outside the northern industrial city of Monterrey – could have been a cover-up for an escape.

In counting the dead, officials discovered some prisoners had gone missing, but didn’t know yet how many.

Forty-four people died before state police regained control about two hours later. The jail’s director and all guards on duty at the time have been detained.

Investigators are looking into whether the fight – between two neighbouring cell blocks, each with around 750 inmates – was started by members of the rival Gulf and Zeta cartels, once the same organisation.

Their split two years ago has caused a spike in violence in the region around Monterrey, Mexico’s third-largest city and once the country’s symbol of development and prosperity.

The prison had members of both gangs, who were normally separated, fueling theories that the 17 guards on duty could have been involved. The prison director, the director of security and a supervisor also are being held, Domene said.

The victims died from makeshift knives and blows, Domene said, adding that no firearms were found among the prisoners.

Deadly fights happen periodically in Mexico’s prisons as gangs and drug cartels stage jail breaks and battle for control of penitentiaries, often with the involvement of officials. Yesterday’s riot was one of the deadliest so far.

All 2,500 inmates in the prison were incarcerated for federal crimes, and as many as 70 percent had yet to be convicted, Domene said. The inmate population grew by 1,500 in the last year to 180 per cent capacity, the result of a crackdown on organized crime and drug trafficking in the last year, he added.

More than 47,500 people have been killed in drug-related violence since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon intensified a crackdown on organised crime.

Families of prisoners protested outside the prison because they couldn’t get information on the victims. Only 10 of the dead had been identified by late afternoon.

Earlier: Prison riot leaves 20 dead in Mexico >

Associated Foreign Press
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