TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) – Six inmates led by a mob boss committed suicide at a prison in Taiwan early Thursday after a failed breakout attempt in which they seized weapons and held a warden and guards hostage, officials said. All the hostages were released.
The inmates started their attempt Wednesday afternoon in the southern port city of Kaohsiung. In a telephone interview with a newspaper during the overnight standoff, 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,” Chen told a news conference in Taipei.
Chen said five prison staff were slightly injured in the standoff, but did not elaborate.
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, Chen said.
The ministry did not offer any video or other evidence of the suicides, but there was no sign during the standoff of a raid by police who ringed the Kaohsiung Prison in scenes that were broadcast by Taiwan stations.
Chen said four of the inmates shot themselves first and that the remaining two had fired additional shots at them to make sure they were dead before shooting themselves, at about 5.30am Thursday.
On Wednesday afternoon, the inmates took four rifles, six handguns and more than 200 bullets from the prison’s armory, the ministry said.
The inmates ranged in age from 37 to 63 and were serving sentences for homicide, 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 ½-year sentence for homicide, the ministry said. The other five inmates were serving sentences ranging from 25 years to life.