Prison chaplain held hostage

A CHAPLAIN at Pinheiro da Cruz prison was released unharmed after being held hostage for more than 20 hours by two armed inmates in the chapel in Grândola in the Alentejo.

Police brought the incident to a safe conclusion by duping the pair, who had demanded to be released, into believing a car had been provided for them. When they made their move for freedom, police used taser guns immobilise them.

The incident had begun at 10.30am on Sunday, shortly after mass ended. The pair approached the altar and threatened the chaplain, Father Júlio Lemos, with homemade weapons.

The other inmates who were in the chapel attempted to protect the chaplain, but he told them to leave in an effort to minimise the number of potential casualties.

Around 20 inmates had attended mass on Sunday and the two in question had only been at the prison for a short time. The head of the prison service, Rui Sá Gomes, said the only demand they made was for their immediate release.

Gomes refused to identify the pair, but said that both were Portuguese. One is well-known in the prison network and nicknamed Tó. He is serving the maximum 25-year sentence for murder while the other younger inmate, nicknamed French, is serving a five-year sentence for robbery. The weapons were handmade from a fork and some wire.

Shortly after the kidnapping, the prison service dispatched a security task force from Lisbon specifically trained to deal with these types of high-risk situations.

A negotiator from the Policía Judiciária (PJ) was also sent to the prison. The main strategy was to convince the inmates to release Father Lemos.

When the GNR arrived, they closed off the access road to the prison in an effort to control the area.

The former prison chaplain, Father Adalberto Saraiva, rushed to the correctional facility when he heard the news and stayed in contact with the bishop of Beja, D. António Vitalino, who is a good friend of the kidnapped chaplain.

The inmates and the chaplain were given food and water during the afternoon. The man who took them the food told police outside that the priest was tied up in a chair but had not been physically harmed.

The rest of the inmates were kept in their cells throughout the day for security reasons.

More than 20 hours later, the situation was resolved when the special forces of the GNR managed to dupe the inmates. They placed a car at the entrance of the chapel and told the prisoners that it would take them to freedom.

When they drove the car beyond the prison walls, the GNR made their move using taser guns to immobilise the pair. The chaplain was finally rescued at 6am on Monday. He was said to be shaken, but not injured.

Celebrations were held on Monday evening at a nearby church, where Father Lemos thanked people for their support and prayers. He said that the GNR acted just in time as the kidnappers had said that they were going to kill him if their demands were not met.

The inmates were returned to their cells and will be monitored closely by security staff. It is likely that they will have time added to their sentence as a result of their actions.

Father Lemos will remain the chaplain of the prison and has said that this incident will not deter him from continuing his mission.