Brazil has been swept with a rash of violence as gangs react to new President Jair Bolsonaro's crackdown on crime - which includes military takeovers of Brazilian cities and shoot-to-kill orders carried out by teams of sharpshooters.
Five hundreds national guard troops have been deployed to the north-eastern town of Fortaleza in the state of Ceará, after authorities have been overwhelmed by more than a week of violence which saw more than 160 attacks, reports the Guardian.
Security forces say three rival drug gangs have come together to carry out more than 160 attacks in retaliation for a proposal to end the practice of separating gang factions inside Brazil’s prisons.
Buses, mail trucks and cars have been torched. Police stations, city government buildings and banks have been attacked with petrol bombs and explosives. On Sunday, criminals blew up a telephone exchange, leaving 12 cities without mobile service. Other explosions have damaged a freeway overpass and a bridge. -Guardian
There have been 148 arrests linked to the attacks, while at least 20 prisoners suspected of ordering the attacks haver been transferred from state to federal prisons - where Bolsonaro's administration says it won't back down on its plan to combat gang activity.
Homicide rates in Fortaleza and other north-eastern cities have soared in recent years, as a territorial wars have broken out between Brazil's most notorious gangs; the First Capital Command (known as the PCC in Portuguese) from São Paulo and the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) from Rio de Janeiro, which have locked horns with the Fortaleza-based Guardians of the State and the Northern Family from Amazonas state.
The PCC and the Red Command are locked in a bitter fight to control Brazil’s drugs trade, and Fortaleza is seen as a strategic prize because it is the closest large port to Europe and Africa. -Guardian
"We used to only see this kind of savagery on television in Rio de Janeiro. Things used to be mellow here," said Carlos Robério, co-owner of a minibus co-op in Fortaleza who watched helplessly over a CCTV feed as a group of youths doused one of their kiosks before setting it on fire.
Robério said that the breakdown in civility has made him want to arm himself. "It’s complete chaos here and I feel like I’m in the middle of the ocean without a life raft"
To that end, Bolsonaro last week said over Twitter that he would issue a decree to ease gun laws, making it much easier for adults over 25 to obtain firearms, as long as they have no criminal record. Bolsonaro says that allowing "good" people to own guns will discourage criminals, as well as reduce Brazil's homicide rate after nearly 64,000 murders last year.
Brazil's security forces killed 5,000 people in 2017, an average of 14 a day.
Meanwhile, authorities in Rio de Janeiro have trained up to 120 sharpshooters which will acccompany the city's police force into nearby slums to eradicate violent gun-toting criminals.
The marksmen will work in pairs; one shooter and one spotter who will monitor conditions and videotape the executions, according to Bloomberg, with the two officers alternating roles.
"The protocol will be to immediately neutralize, slaughter anyone who has a rifle," said Witzel - a former Brazilian marine and federal judge, on December 12. "Whoever has a rifle isn't worried about other people's lives, they're ready to eliminate anyone who crosses their path. This is a grave problem, not just in Rio de Janeiro, but in other states."