TOCORON: The leaders of the Tren de Aragua gang, which used Tocoron prison as a base for their international crime operations, escaped after apparently being tipped off about the huge operation, which had been planned for a year.
On Wednesday, a vast force of security personnel, backed by armoured vehicles, took back control of the notorious penitentiary that had been run by the inmates.
They seized Bitcoin mining machines, rocket launchers, and machine guns with thousands of belts of ammunition in the prison – which the gang had kitted out with a pool, a nightclub, and even a zoo.
One soldier was killed in the operation.
The prison gang leaders, known as “pranes,” had negotiated with authorities to leave the facility and “had left the country a week ago,” said the Venezuelan Prison Observatory (OVV), a group that follows developments in the country’s notoriously dangerous detention centres.
The OVV did not specify which countries they went to, accusing authorities of “opacity.”
There was “no trace” of gang leader Hector Rusthenford Guerrero Flores, nor his lieutenants, the group said.
The ministry of interior and justice released a “Wanted” poster on social media yesterday, calling for the arrest of Hector Guerrero, also known as “El Nino” Guerrero, and offering a reward.
“The citizen security organs are looking for Hector Guerrero…for his participation in multiple crimes against persons and terrorism,” said the ministry’s post on X, formerly Twitter. The post did not specify if he had left the country.
Meanwhile, other inmates of the now-emptied Tocoron prison were being moved to other detention centres.
The Tren de Aragua, which reportedly numbers some 5,000 criminals, emerged in 2014, specialising in classic mafia activities -kidnapping, robberies, drugs, prostitution, and extortion. It has extended its influence to other activities, some legal, but also to illegal gold mining.
Interior minister Admiral Remigio Ceballos said on Thursday that authorities had discovered tunnels that allowed detainees to escape, without specifying how many of them had gotten away. But more than 80 inmates had been recaptured, his office said.
He said four prison officials had been arrested and charged with complicity with the criminals.
“We would like to know more about how these officials managed to enter with rockets and weapons without the complicity of many other people,” said the OVV.
Around 1,600 prisoners were in Tocoron when authorities stormed the prison, officials said.
The prison’s capacity is 750 inmates, but it had housed more than 5,000, the OVV said.