RIO DE JANEIRO – At least 40 suspects were taken into custody after a confrontation between gangs in this Brazilian city left three police officers injured and nearly a dozen vehicles burned, authorities said on Tuesday.
The Rio de Janeiro state police said that they carried out the sweep following an “intense” battle between criminal organizations in the Cidade Alta district.
The combatants set eight buses and two trucks on fire and the resulting thick clouds of smoke forced road closures in the Rio metropolitan area.
Residents began calling police around 3 am to report that gang members from outside the neighborhood had invaded the district and were trying to assert control, state police spokesman Ivan Blaz said.
“We formed a perimeter and once surrounded, the criminal invaders instigated the inhabitants of the communities they dominate to promote disturbances and chaos with the aim of dispersing the police and facilitating their escape,” Blaz told the media.
Television images showed some area residents taking advantage of the disturbances to loot trucks carrying food and toiletries, while a group of young people piled tires and poles in the streets to block traffic.
Besides the arrests, police seized more than 30 long guns during the operation, which prompted school closures affecting more than 3,000 students.
Violence has been on the increase in the city since the end of special security measures taken for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Clashes among gangs and between criminals and police are common in the “favelas” that are home to most of Rio’s low-income residents.
Rio de Janeiro is one of the “principal destinations for international weapons trafficking” and officers must often contend with criminals toting machine guns, the state police spokesman said.