Brazilian security forces have waged a crackdown on criminal gangs accused of torching vehicles, shooting up buildings and sowing terror in four nights of attacks on dozens of northeastern cities.
One suspect was killed and 17 arrested in the crackdown on the attacks on Friday, which authorities say have been organised by jailed gang leaders as a protest against prison conditions and new restrictions on their activities from behind bars.
The security operation targeted gang members in three cities, including Natal, the capital of Rio Grande do Norte state, which has been at the centre of the unrest.
According to local media reports, more than 40 cities have been hit by the wave of violence, in which attackers have torched cars, trucks, buses and a health centre and left police cruisers, businesses and government buildings riddled with bullets.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government has sent hundreds of federal officers to bolster state security forces.
The number of reinforcements will reach 500 by Saturday, said Rio Grande do Norte Governor Fatima Bezerra.
“We will win this fight, and we will get back to normal,” she wrote on Twitter.
In all, three suspects have been killed in clashes with police and 97 have been arrested since the violence erupted on Tuesday.
According to media reports, investigators suspect one of Brazil’s most powerful organised crime groups, the First Capital Command, of involvement in the attacks.
Brazil’s severely overcrowded prison system is notorious for security failures and corruption, allowing crime bosses to continue running their operations behind bars.
The prison system has a history of deadly riots and clashes between rival gangs.
Rio Grande do Norte’s prisons have been hit by allegations of severe abuses, including inmates being tortured and served rotting food.