RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian police said they have dismantled a vigilante militia that operated in the shantytowns ringing this metropolis and is suspected of more than 100 homicides.
Federal, civil and military police in Rio de Janeiro took part in the operation, which led to the arrest of 10 members of the illegal armed group known as Bonde do Jura, led by a rogue police officer identified as Juraci Prudencio, a police spokesman told the state-run Agencia Brasil news agency.
The police official said the vigilante militia – the largest in the area – was made up of nine military police, an ex-cop with that same force and four private security guards.
He said the group was active in several shantytowns on Rio’s northern outskirts and was involved in the illegal sale of gas, pirated pay TV connections and unauthorized security and passenger transport, noting that the militia had 60 vehicles in operation.
Bonde do Jura is considered responsible for the deaths of 100 people, including members of rival militias, witnesses to their crimes, local shantytown residents and a police officer who was reportedly shot almost 50 times.
Police said their investigation also revealed the group had close ties to another militia led by former state lawmaker Natalino Guimaraes, currently behind bars.
Rio de Janeiro’s militias, illegal armed groups made up mainly of police and ex-police, were originally formed to fight drug-trafficking gangs in the “favelas,” or shantytowns.
These illegal groups, which have expelled drug gangs from some favelas, are accused of running protection rackets and levying taxes on basic goods coming into those slums.
Frequent clashes between rival drug gangs and between the criminal groups and the police have turned Rio de Janeiro into one of Brazil’s most violent cities.
A report released last year by a U.N. special envoy said that the vigilante militias were responsible for one in five killings in the city.
The report by Philip Alston also found that there is “a significant problem with on-duty police (in Rio and throughout Brazil) using excessive force and committing extrajudicial executions in illegal and counterproductive efforts to combat crime.” EFE