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Brazil prison guards fend off helicopter attack

/ Source: The Associated Press

Armed men firing from pickup trucks and a helicopter attacked Brazil's most-secure prison in an attempt to free some of its high-profile inmates but were driven away by guards, authorities said Monday.

The federal prison attacked late Sunday holds two of Brazil's most notorious inmates, Brazilian gang leader Luiz Fernando da Costa and Colombian drug lord Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, who could face extradition to the United States.

An investigation is under way to determine whether the attackers were trying to free Ramirez Abadia, da Costa or other inmates, said a justice ministry spokesman who declined to give his name in keeping with department policy. The spokesman said the helicopter overflew the prison during the attack but never landed.

All of the attackers got away and no one was injured at the prison, located in the Mato Grosso do Sul state capital of Campo Grande in southwestern Brazil.

Ramirez Abadia — nicknamed "Chupeta," or "Lollipop" — is accused of leading the powerful Norte del Valle cartel, which emerged as Colombia's most powerful drug gang in the mid-1990s. A Brazilian judge found him guilty of money laundering, corruption, conspiracy and use of false documents.

Ramirez Abadia's gang laundered drug profits from Mexico and Spain, moving money through Uruguay to Brazil and funneling it into hotels, mansions, businesses and cars in Brazil.

Brazil's Supreme Court ruled last month that Ramirez Abadia could also be extradited to the United States to face racketeering charges —Braz a decision that is up to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Silva has not indicated whether he will approve the extradition.

Da Costa is Brazil's most notorious drug trafficker. Better known as "Fernandinho Beira-Mar" — Portuguese for "Seaside Freddy" — da Costa was captured in 2001 in the Colombian jungle and accused of giving cash and weapons to leftist rebels in exchange for cocaine.