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Brazil's federal police arrest 2 fugitives from maximum-security prison after 50-day manhunt

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil’s federal police said Thursday that they arrested two fugitives who escaped a maximum-security prison in northeastern Brazil, bringing a 50-day manhunt to an end. Authorities also detained 14 people for helping the inmates since their getaway.

In February, Rogério Mendonça and Deibson Nascimento became the first inmates to ever escape from Brazil’s federal penitentiary system, a source of embarrassment for both the justice ministry and the police.

The two were were arrested earlier on Thursday in the Amazon city of Maraba, more than 1,600 kilometers (995 miles) west of the Mossoro penitentiary where they were imprisoned. Authorities said their escape included a dayslong boat trip between the states of Ceara and Para, where they were arrested — a journey that is still under investigation.

“This is a victory for the Brazilian state and Brazil's security forces. It shows that organized crime will not thrive in our country,” Justice Minister Ricardo Lewandowski said at a news conference in the capital city of Brasilia.

Lewandowski added that the federal police knew Mendonça and Nascimento were planning to leave Brazil when they were taken into custody. Another four men who were with them on a bridge were also arrested.

“They were in a true criminal motorcade. We also seized three cars, multiple guns,” the minister said. He added that despite finding traces of left-over food and tracks during their search, authorities lost the two after a while but managed to find them thanks to the work of federal police intelligence agents.

Mendonça and Nascimento were transferred to Mossoro in September to serve their sentences that together amount to 155 years in prison. Both are connected with one of Brazil's largest and most dangerous crime gangs. They escaped on Feb. 14, setting off a nationwide manhunt that included regular updates on Brazilian TV stations.

While on the run, the pair allegedly held a family hostage for days near the penitentiary, hid on a farm and attacked at least one person in a rural area of the city of Barauna in the state of Rio Grande do Norte.

Lewandowski said investigators are looking into possible support from locals for the fugitives. He added that the two would be sent back to the Mossoro penitentiary.

Brazilian authorities said in March that Mendonça and Nascimento fled through a hole and used tools left by workers during prison renovation works to cut through a wired fence.

“They were obviously helped by criminals outside (the prison) and had support from their partners and criminal organization,” the minister added.

More than 600 policemen were involved in the manhunt, local authorities said.

Andrei Rodrigues, the head of Brazil's federal police, said there was a real risk of confrontation with the fugitives who had “an assault weapon that was pointed at policemen.”

But “faced with a tactical group,” they eventually surrendered, Rodrigues said.

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