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Gang war overflows into Mexican prisons

Mexican police chopper hovers over prison riot

Mexican authorities have reported that a minimum of 20 prisoners were killed and 12 injured in Saturday rioting at a prison housing drug gang members  in the violent border city of Matamoros.

According to the Tamaulipas state government’s public security office, fighting broke out between two inmates but quickly spread among dozens more.

Federal and state police were called to assist guards in restoring order at the prison, the statement said. News video showed helicopters hovering above the prison’s gray watchtower.

The state public security office did not specify how the inmates were killed, what weapons were used or which gangs the prisoners belonged to.  Bodies are on the way to forensic officials for autopsies, the statement said.

Matamoros, in Tamaulipas state, is situated directly across the border from Brownsville, Texas. It has been an important theater in the ongoing war between the once-dominant Gulf cartel and the powerful Zetas paramilitary gang, as both struggle for control of the valuable drug- and human-smuggling corridor.

Violent riots are frequent in Mexican prisons, especially in the north, where rival gang members are often jailed in the same overcrowded institution.

Last week seven prisoners were killed in the state of Nuevo Leon, which borders Tamaulipas. In July, another 17 were killed in a riot at a prison in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso.

In addition to being unsafe inside, Mexican prisons can also be poorly contained.  Last year hundreds of inmates escaped, including 40 from the Matamoros facility in March.  In that case, 50 guards and the warden were held for questioning.

Last month, 32 prisoners broke out almost simultaneously from three jails in the coastal city of Veracruz, in a state that also borders Tamaulipas.