Rio de Janeiro, May 24 (EFE).- A police raid targeting alleged drug traffickers linked to a powerful criminal gang left at least 21 dead in this southeastern Brazilian metropolis on Tuesday, a year after a similar law-enforcement operation resulted in 28 deaths.
Military Police officers entered the Penha favela (shantytown) complex in northern Rio de Janeiro in search of leaders of the Comando Vermelho crime gang, one of Brazil’s most violent criminal organizations along with the Primeiro Comando da Capital.
Police said the officers were met by gunfire during the raid, prompting a shootout that initially was thought to have left 13 dead, including 11 suspected gang members, a female resident of the favela complex and another individual.
Hospital sources later raised the death toll to 21, although some of those killed have not yet been identified.
The gunshot victims had been taken to an area hospital, and those fatally wounded were later identified there by family members, Efe observed.
Authorities said the operation sought to strike a crushing blow to the Comando Vermelho, a criminal outfit allegedly responsible for more than 80 percent of the armed clashes in Rio de Janeiro state.
The gang has an “expansionist policy, an ideology of war, of confrontation. Not only against police forces, but also against other criminal groups,” Military Police spokesman Ivan Blaz said.
During the operation, the security forces seized an “arsenal of war” consisting of handguns, 10 grenades and at least 13 rifles from China and Eastern Europe that had been brought to Brazil by international arms traffickers, as well as vehicles and motorcycles.
One female resident of that low-income district, 41-year-old Gabriele Ferreira de Cunha, was killed after being hit by a stray bullet during the operation.
“It was the loss of an innocent life,” said the spokesman, who lamented the woman’s death but still insisted on the necessity of the operation.
Tuesday’s raid occurred just over a year after a similar police operation on May 6, 2021, left 28 dead in the Jacarezinho favela, including 27 suspected criminals and a police officer.
That raid is regarded as the bloodiest in Rio de Janeiro’s history.
Human rights organizations have termed the Jacarezinho operation a massacre, saying security forces carried out extrajudicial executions, abused detainees and tampered with or destroyed crime-scene evidence.
In an initial reaction to Tuesday’s raid, New York-based Human Rights Watch called for an immediate and thorough investigation, saying that the favela’s inhabitants were terrorized for hours. EFE