Prison riot in El Salvador leaves at least 20 dead

Riot begins when a jailed gang member grabbed a guard he had been arguing with, and rival gang members began fighting each other.

El Salvador riot 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
El Salvador riot 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
A riot at a maximum-security prison in western El Salvador left at least 20 inmates dead on Saturday, officials said. Officials regained control of the facility and found 17 prisoners dead, but another outbreak of fighting claimed three more lives later on Saturday, according to a federal police representative inside the facility, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid the chance of reprisals by inmates. Wilfredo Olivares, a representative for the government human rights prosecutor, said that "the information we have is that another revolt broke out in Sector 11 where they were safeguarding members of a gang." The riot began late Friday as inmates prepared to enter their cells, authorities said. A jailed gang member grabbed a guard he had been arguing with, and rival gang members began fighting each other and tearing down the prison's flimsy interior walls to get at other cell blocks. Guards then fled as hundreds of inmates battled each other, mostly with makeshift weapons, shovels and pieces of broken wall. Several injuries were reported in the initial rioting, none of them severe. Built to hold 1,800 inmates, the facility houses more than 2,000, many considered to be the most dangerous in the country. About 100 police were sent into the prison to restore the peace, while buses carried dozens of prisoners to the maximum-security Santa Ana facility in an effort to ease overcrowding and separate feuding groups. Government human rights prosecutor Beatrice de Carrillo described the riot as "the worst massacre in recent years." Central American jails have long struggled with overcrowding and deadly riots that are often sparked by fights between rival gangs. Overcrowding is fueled in part by a regional gang crackdown that has filled prisons with rival groups. In Guatemala, a gang was blamed for initiating riots that left 35 inmates dead in 2005. In El Salvador, 31 inmates were killed in 2004 during a battle between gang and non-gang prisoners. And a flood of violence in Honduran prisons killed more than 180 prisoners in 2004 and 2005.