About 250 police officers backed up by military armored vehicles seized control of a suburban Rio slum on Tuesday after six missing teenagers were found dead there with gunshot wounds and signs of torture.
The police said a force would remain in the Chatuba favela, located in the town of Mesquita north of Rio, on a permanent basis to flush out drug traffickers blamed for a surge of violence in the impoverished community.
Police said a dozen people have been killed in violent incidents over the past three days, including the six teenagers.
“Urgent action was necessary to bring back calm in this area in the wake of a significant number of barbaric crimes committed this weekend by drug traffickers who dominate Chatuba,” the public security ministry said in a statement.
State authorities have since 2008 moved to wrest control of some of Rio’s sprawling slums ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.
About 5,500 members of police pacification units have been deployed in 144 Rio favelas, most in the city’s southern tourist area.
The force was deployed in Chatuba after six young men turned up dead on Monday on a roadside near the slum. The youths, who were between the ages of 16 and 19 and had no criminal records, had disappeared after swimming in a waterfall on Saturday.
“They were tortured. It was a barbaric crime. I think that the criminals killed them in that manner to show how powerful they are,” Sandra Ornelas, a police officer in the neighboring town of Nilopolis, told reporters on Monday.
Police are looking for a seventh 19-year-old man who also disappeared on Saturday.
They added that 10 people have been detained so far, including three for possession of cocaine.
Police intelligence officers believe the killings were ordered by a local drug baron identified as Juninho Cagao and two accomplices, O Globo’s G1 Web site quoted Colonel Frederico Caldas, a military police spokesman, as saying.
A force of 112 militarized police officers will eventually set up a permanent post in the favela, like in other slums in Rio.
Brazilian Human Rights Minister Maria do Rosario said the killings “cannot go unpunished.”
“I spoke with [Rio] Governor [Sergio] Cabral and he assured me that all measures will be taken to identify those responsible for this slaughter,” the official Agencia Brasil quoted her as saying.
Mesquita Mayor Artur Messias spoke of a surge in violence over the past few years in the town, which is home to 40,000 people.
“We noticed that violence increased with the presence of drug traffickers who migrated here after being kicked out of Rio. The [Rio] governor and the police leadership are aware of it,” G1 quoted the mayor as saying.
Police urged slum residents to collaborate, name criminals and identify their hideouts and drug and weapon caches. People were told to always carry their identity cards with them.