At least 41 killed during riot at women's prison in Honduras

FILE - Gate and corridor inside a new prison. (Yves Forestier/Sygma via Getty Images)

A riot Tuesday at a women's prison in Honduras killed at least 41 women, most of them burned to death, in violence linked to gang activity, authorities said.

Most victims were burned but there also were reports of inmates shot at the prison in Tamara, about 30 miles (about 50 kilometers) northwest of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, said Yuri Mora, the spokesman for Honduras’ national police investigation agency.

At least seven female inmates were being treated at a Tegucigalpa hospital for gunshot and knife wounds, employees there said.

Julissa Villanueva, head of the country's prison system, suggested the riot started because of recent attempts by authorities to crack down on illicit activity inside prisons and called Tuesday's violence a reaction to moves "we are taking against organized crime."

"We will not back down," Villanueva said in a televised address after the riot.

Gangs often wield broad control inside the country's prisons, where inmates often set their own rules and sell prohibited goods.

The riot appears to be the worst tragedy at a female detention center in the region since 2017, when girls at a shelter for troubled youths in Guatemala set fire to mattresses to protest rapes and other mistreatment at the badly overcrowded institution. The ensuing smoke and fire killed 41 girls.

The worst prison disaster in a century also occurred in Honduras, in 2012 at the Comayagua penitentiary, where 361 inmates. died in a fire possibly caused by a match, cigarette or some other open flame.