AT LEAST 18 people have been killed in a dramatic shootout between police and suspected gang members in a Rio de Janeiro favela after 400 officers stormed the slum.
The hours-long shootout on Thursday, which saw drug dealers open fire on police helicopters, resulted in the death of 16 suspected gang members, a police officer and a local woman at the Complexo de Alemao.
Tactical teams from Rio de Janeiro’s civil and military police’s sting operation targeted a gang involvement in cargo theft and bank robberies, a police spokesperson said during a news conference.
Police was supported by ten bulletproof vehicles and four helicopters.
Dramatic footage showing the helicopters coming under intense fire from the favela hilltops emerged on social media.
At the site of the raid, Associated Press reporters reported seeing residents carrying about 10 bodies as bystanders screamed, “We want peace!”
Residents waved white clothing and sheets in a signal to surrender but the massacre did not stop.
“It’s a massacre inside, which police are calling an operation,” a woman told The Associated Press.
“They’re not letting us help [victims],” the lady said, adding that she had seen a man arrested for trying to give assistance.
Gang members have reportedly set up barricades with burning debris in some areas of the Complexo de Alemao – a complex of 13 favelas in northern Rio, home to about 70,000 people.
Law enforcement authorities supported the raid, saying that police teams had been “violently attacked” with “military and guerrilla” tactics.
The authorities alleged the criminals had used local civilians as human shields during the operation.
Ronaldo Oliveira, an investigator with Rio’s police force, said officials would have preferred to make arrests of suspected gang members, but were left with no choice as they “unfortunately […] chose to fire at our policemen.”
This is the latest fatal police operation in a Rio de Janeiro favela
In May last year, 28 people were killed in a similar raid in Rio’s Jacarerinho favela.
Thursday’s heavy death toll has sparked renewed complaints of excessive police violence.
This comes just months after Brazil’s Supreme Court established a series of conditions for police to handle crime as a means to reduce police killings and violations of human rights, following the Jacarerinho massacre.
Recommendations include the way in which police conducts raids in Rio’s favelas, with the court ordering that lethal force be used only in situations of self-defense and defense of others.
Nearly three-quarters of the Complexo de Alemao residents are Black or biracial, according to a July 2020 study published by the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economical Analyses.