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2 inmates escape from a maximum security prison in Brazil, a first for the South American country

SAO PAULO — Two inmates escaped from a maximum security prison in northeastern Brazil, the first time detainees manage to escape from one of the country’s five maximum security federal penitentiaries, authorities said Thursday.

Justice Minister Ricardo Lewandowski said 300 security agents are involved in the search for Rogério da Silva Mendonça and Deibson Cabral Nascimento, who escaped Wednesday from a federal penitenciary in the city of Mossoro.

The two inmates have connections with a major Brazilian crime gang and were sent to Mossoro in September after taking part in a prison mutiny in the state of Acre, on the country’s border with Peru and Bolivia.

Mossoro sits 2,800 kilometers (1,740 miles) north of Sao Paulo.

Brazil has five maximum security federal penitentiaries, and Mossoro has hosted some important drug traffickers over the last decade.

Lewandowski said the top management of Mossoro’s penitentiary has been removed and an interim administrator sent by the federal government is now in charge of the prison, which is going through renovations.

“These renovations could have made their escape easier,” Lewandowski told a news conference. “But rest assured that the federal prisons are absolutely safe and people can continue to trust the system.”

Lewandowski said police agents believe the two inmates are hiding in a forested area close to the penitentiary.

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