RIO DE JANEIRO – At least five people were killed and one was wounded Tuesday in a police operation targeting the gang that controls drug trafficking in the Rio slum of Vila Alianza, Brazilian officials said.
The five dead were identified as drug traffickers.
Three of the men burned to death when rounds fired from a police armored vehicle caused the car in which they were fleeing to explode and burst into flames.
The other two suspected criminals died in a gunfight with officers.
The operation’s target, reputed drug kingpin Marcio Jose Sabino, managed to get away, but his top henchman was among the three people killed when the car exploded, police spokesmen said.
Officers seized two rifles, a submachine gun, two pistols, a grenade, a radio, two bullet-proof vests and ammunition in the operation.
A 57-year-old man was taken to a hospital after suffering a heart attack when his car was struck by the vehicle that exploded, press accounts said.
Rio de Janeiro has become one of the most dangerous cities in Brazil due to the constant clashes involving drug gangs, police and death squads.
A third of Rio’s 6 million people live in dwellings in the “favelas,” or shantytowns, where drug traffickers often wield power through violence, replacing the government.
In some 200 shantytowns, according to official estimates, drug traffickers have been pushed out by death squads made up of active and retired police officers, who take justice into their own hands, creating a new challenge for the government.
In late 2006, drug gangs in Rio launched coordinated pre-dawn attacks on buses and police stations they said were in retaliation for death squad operations in scores of slums.
Leaflets strewn at the scenes of the attacks, which left more than a score dead, accused former Rio Gov. Rosinha Garotinho of fostering the formation of the death squads.
In one of most heinous incidents, six people were burned to death when gunmen boarded a bus, robbed the passengers and then set fire to the vehicle.
In 2007, shortly before the Pan American Games started, Rio was the scene of clashes among police, militias and drug traffickers that left 20 people dead in just one day. EFE