RIO DE JANEIRO (REUTERS) - At least 25 people were killed in a shootout between suspected drug traffickers and police in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday (May 6), one of the state’s deadliest police raids, police said.
People targeted in the raid in the poor Jacarezinho neighbourhood tried to escape across rooftops as police arrived in armoured vehicles and helicopters flew overhead, television images showed. The firefight forced residents to shelter in their homes.
The victims included one police officer, and the remainder were suspected members of the drug gang.
Among the dead were leaders of the drug-trafficking gang that dominated life in the slum, police said. At least 10 suspects were arrested, they said.
It was the deadliest single police operation in 16 years for Rio state which has suffered for decades from drug-related violence in poor neighbourhoods known as favelas.
A 2005 raid in the Baixada Fluminense in Rio’s violent northern outskirts killed 29 people.
“This is one of the largest death tolls in a police operation in Rio, surpassing 19 at Complexo do Alemao slum in 2007, except we did not lose one of ours then,” police chief Ronaldo Oliveira told Reuters.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Rio de Janeiro prosecutors have a constitutional obligation to oversee the police and pursue criminal investigations of police abuses. It called for a thorough and independent investigation into the deaths.
According to HRW, Rio police killed 453 people and at least four police officers died in police actions during the first three months of the year, despite a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting operations in communities during the Covid-19 pandemic except in “absolutely exceptional cases.”
Police said in addition to drug trafficking, the gang robbed trucks of cargo and held up commuter trains to steal from passengers.
Bullets fired during the shootout struck a light rail car, and two passengers were hurt by shattered glass from the broken window, the fire brigade said.
Three policemen were hit by gunfire and one died of a head wound in hospital, police said.
Police displayed an arsenal of seized weapons at a news conference: six assault rifles, 15 handguns, a machine gun, 14 grenades and a round of artillery ammunition.