Sun Jan 15, 2017 10:10AM
This handout picture, taken on January 14, 2017 inside the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal, Rio Grande do Norte State, northeastern Brazil, shows inmates during a prison riot. (By AFP)
This handout picture, taken on January 14, 2017 inside the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal, Rio Grande do Norte State, northeastern Brazil, shows inmates during a prison riot. (By AFP)

Gang fights have reportedly left at least 10 people dead in a prison in northern Brazil, in the latest of a series of similar incidents in the South American country.

News website Folha de Sao Paulo said a riot broke out at the Alcacuz Penitentiary in Rio Grande do Norte State on Saturday afternoon after criminal gangs clashed and some cellblocks were invaded by rival groups of criminals.

Three of those killed in the fights were beheaded.

Police have surrounded the prison and blocked the exits, but are waiting for dawn on Sunday to enter because the inmates are out of their cells and armed.

The Alcacuz prison facility holds 1,083 inmates, almost two times more than its capacity of 620.

Special Operations Command personnel are on standby in the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex, in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil, on January 14, 2017, some 12 days after 56 inmates were killed during a riot at the facility. (Photo by AFP)

A string of violent incidents started in Brazilian prisons on January 1, when 56 inmates were killed in gang fights in the northern state of Amazonas. Many of those killed were beheaded and dismembered.

Then, on January 6, in the neighboring state of Roraima, 33 prisoners were gruesomely killed by prison gangs. The hearts and intestines of many of the victims were removed.

Experts say Brazil’s most powerful criminal gang, the so-called First Command, also known by the Portuguese acronym PCC, is exploiting overcrowded and squalid conditions in the country’s prisons to expand its reach across the national prison system.

The gang runs drug-trafficking operations both inside and outside prisons even though many of its leaders are in maximum-security facilities in Sao Paulo State.