Six inmates led by a mob boss committed suicide at a prison in Taiwan after a failed break-out attempt in which they seized weapons and held a warden and guards hostage.
The prisoners started their attempt in the southern port city of Kaohsiung. In a telephone interview with a newspaper during the overnight stand-off, the 46-year-old ringleader said the six had long planned the move and were prepared to die. He also complained about long sentences and unfairness in the granting of medical paroles.
Deputy justice minister Chen Ming-tang said officials rejected the group’s demands for safe passage out of the prison and had tried to convince them to surrender peacefully during hours of negotiations.
“We tried to give them assurances so they wouldn’t do something stupid and to reconsider, but sadly they committed suicide and we feel deep regret,” Mr Chen said in Taipei.
He said five prison staff were slightly injured in the stand-off.
By the pre-dawn hours, the inmates had released all hostages except the warden. They then shot themselves and the warden was able to walk free, Mr Chen said.
The ministry did not offer any video or other evidence of the suicides, but there was no sign during the stand-off of a raid by police who ringed the Kaohsiung Prison in scenes that were broadcast by Taiwan stations.
Mr Chen said four of the inmates shot themselves first and the remaining two fired additional shots at them to make sure they were dead before shooting themselves at about 5.30am.
The prisoners took four rifles, six handguns and more than 200 bullets from the jail’s armoury, the ministry said.
They were aged between 37 and 63 and were serving sentences for murder, burglary and drug crimes.
The ringleader, Cheng Li-te, was known as head of the Kaohsiung branch of the notorious mafia-type organisation Bamboo Union and was serving a 28-year sentence for murder, the ministry said. The other five inmates were serving sentences ranging from 25 years to life.
They demanded safe passage from the prison while holding warden Chen Shih-chih and head guard Wang Shih-tsang after the pair offered to swap themselves for earlier hostages.
Within hours of the hostage taking, armed police surrounded the prison. Authorities also called on relatives of the inmates to plea for the release of the hostages.
Mr Chen said the inmates fired guns at about midnight to try to shoot down drone cameras deployed by media outlets and again at about 3am to warn off police.
The ministry said it had rejected demands that the police force be withdrawn and that two vehicles be provided to allow the prisoners to leave in exchange for the safety of the detainees.
The inmates used the need for medical care as a pretence to lure prison guards before kidnapping them, the official Central News Agency said.
The United Daily News said that in the phone call with Cheng, he also had complained about the tendency of judges to presume guilt and to give long sentences to repeat offenders.
The ministry said deputy warden Lai Chen-jung and Mr Wang volunteered to swap with the two guards who were initially taken hostage. Later warden Mr Chen offered to exchange with Mr Lai as a hostage.