Venezuelan troops storm notorious Tocoron prison and find a nightclub, zoo and swimming pool

More than 11,000 Venezuelan soldiers stormed a notorious prison, finding a nightclub, zoo, swimming pool and casino inside.

Troops were sent into the Tocoron prison, which had been under the control of inmates, where authorities uncovered a haul of guns, missiles and motorbikes.

It was described as a "little city" and was used as the headquarters of the feared Tren de Aragua gang.

Members are said to be behind hundreds of murders as well as human trafficking, prostitution, extortion, robberies and kidnappings.

Along with a cache of weapons, the gang was found to be using bitcoin machines to illegally mine cryptocurrency.

There was also a restaurant, a baseball field and a children's play area, according to Venezuelan authorities.

President Nicolas Maduro wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, moments after the raid on Wednesday: "I congratulate the more than 11,000 members of the FANB [National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela] and police forces for the successful intervention of the Tocoron Penitentiary Center.

"We are heading towards a Venezuela free of criminal gangs!"

Pictures posted online by the Venezuelan government showed heavily armed forces bursting into the gates before putting the prisoners in handcuffs.

Inside they found shacks where families of inmates lived and that locals would visit the jail to buy goods from a supermarket inside.

Wild animals including tigers, lions, crocodiles, pumas, flamingos and an ostrich were kept in a mini zoo.

These exotic creatures were used to repel government forces, according to local media.

Buckets full of bullets, scores of missiles, grenades, rifles, explosives and motorbikes were all found in the gangsters' armoury.

The gang's reach is said to stretch across six Venezuelan states as well as neighbouring countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Chile.

Its leader, Héctor Guerrero Flores, who was imprisoned for murder and drug trafficking, was so powerful he reportedly used to come and go from the jail as he pleased.

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Following the raid, the government congratulated security forces on the "clean and quick actions" and for "re-establishing order" at the jail.

A "second phase" of the operation has also now been launched, which the government said would involve "capturing all and every one of the escaped criminals".

According to Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional, between 400 to 500 prisoners were still missing and could be hiding in nearby mountains.

Remigio Ceballos, of the Venezuelan Interior Ministry, wrote on Twitter to congratulate officers for regaining "total control" of the prison and dismantling "a centre of conspiracy and crime".

Outside the prison, families of the inmates feared they would lose their homes following the crackdown.

President Maduro has come under fire over allegations of human rights violations as his government forces were accused of targeting critics ahead of an election next year.

A UN-backed panel investigating human rights violations said on Wednesday that the South American country's government has ramped up its curtailing of democratic freedoms with threats, surveillance and harassment.

In 2020 human rights groups called for an investigation after 46 deaths during a Venezuelan prison riot.