At least 10 people were killed today as police launched a series of major assaults on Rio’s slums, including one area that serves as the headquarters of the city’s largest drug gang.
Operations involving hundreds of heavily-armed police operatives began yesterday, following a series of attacks on police and drivers, and have so far left at least 12 suspected criminals dead and an 81-year-old man wounded.
Early yesterday, police launched simultaneous raids on nearly 20 favelas in search of criminals from the Red Command drug faction thought to be behind the attacks.
The recent wave of violence, which has seen cars and buses torched across the city, is reportedly a co-ordinated reaction by drug traffickers to recent attempts to pacify the favelas.
This morning the confrontations erupted again with armed police and bulletproof vehicles sweeping into the Complexo da Penha, a network of red-brick slums in northern Rio that is home to leading members of the Red Command faction.
Helicopter images shot by one TV channel showed dozens of gang members, brandishing handguns and assault rifles, gathered at an entrance to the Vila Cruzeiro slum.
In an interview with local radio, Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, said the attacks were “a reaction against the public security policy we are implementing”.
“These are terrorist actions that seek to corner the authorities … We will not retreat one millimetre. Rio is on the right path in terms of public security.”
The security secretary of Rio de Janeiro state, Jose Mariano Beltrame, urged residents to continue with their daily routines. “People should carry on as normal and stay calm,” he told Rio’s lunchtime news bulletins, claiming that the slum pacification had put many drug traffickers out of business and “freed 200,000 people from the threat of the rifle”.
But as gunfights spread across the 2016 Olympic city and cars continued to burn, local Twitter users went into overdrive issuing warnings about areas to be avoided.
“Helicopters. Shooting. Don’t come to Penha,” wrote one, referring to the neighbourhood around one embattled slum. Another said: “I have never seen so many policemen, bulletproof vehicles, helicopters and despair in my life. I’m trying to leave urgently.”
One civil police operative told the Guardian authorities expected further attacks from the Red Command over the coming days. “There’s going to be trouble,” he said.
Reports in the local media, citing police intelligence, suggest the Red Command may have sealed an alliance with another major drug faction in order to launch attacks on authorities.