Gunmen attack Brazil prison in failed break

April 14, 2008 12:44:00 PM PDT
Armed men firing from pickup trucks and flying in a helicopter attacked a maximum-security prison holding some of Brazil's highest-profile inmates but were repelled by guards, authorities said Monday. No inmates escaped. The federal prison attacked late Sunday houses Colombian drug lord Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia and Brazilian gang leader Luiz Fernando da Costa - and authorities were investigating whether the gunmen were trying to free either of the men.

"The prison was attacked by gunmen wielding heavy caliber weapons," Wilson Damasio, the director of Brazil's Federal Penitentiary System, told reporters. "The idea was obviously to free inmates. There is no other reason for attacking a penitentiary."

The helicopter flew over the prison during the attack but never landed, according to justice ministry spokesman who declined to give his name in keeping with department policy.

Shots were fired at the control towers of the prison, and guards counterattacked with their own gunfire and by lobbing grenades, Brazil's Globo TV reported.

All of the attackers got away and no one was injured at the prison, located in the Mato Grosso do Sul state capital of Campo Grande in southwestern Brazil.

Ramirez Abadia - nicknamed "Chupeta," or "Lollipop" - is accused of leading the powerful Norte del Valle cartel, which emerged as Colombia's most powerful drug gang in the mid-1990s. A Brazilian judge found him guilty of money laundering, corruption, conspiracy and use of false documents.

Brazil's Supreme Court ruled last month that Ramirez Abadia could also be extradited to the United States to face racketeering charges - a decision that is up to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Silva has not indicated whether he will approve the extradition.

Da Costa is Brazil's most notorious drug trafficker. Better known as "Fernandinho Beira-Mar" - Portuguese for "Seaside Freddy" - da Costa was captured in 2001 in the Colombian jungle.