RIO DE JANEIRO – Police seized 60 assault rifles hidden in a cargo container at the Rio de Janeiro international airport, authorities said on Thursday.
The shipment of swimming pool heaters dispatched from Miami also contained 45 AK47 rifles, 14 AR15’s and one G3 rifle, all heavy caliber military weapons.
In Brazil, the weapons hidden in the shipment are considered war materiel and their use is exclusively reserved for the armed forces.
This is the largest seizure of this kind of weapons in a single operation in the last 10 years in Rio, where there are ongoing armed clashes among bands of gunmen vying for control over illegal drug sales points.
Participating in the operation conducted at the airport’s cargo terminal, which resulted in the arrests of four people, were agents from the Rio de Janeiro state police’s special unit dealing with munitions and explosives.
The seizure was made possible thanks to a year-long investigation and information obtained from court-ordered wiretaps of telephone calls.
The investigation began with the confiscation of a weapon used in the murder of a police officer in Sao Gonzalo, a municipality in greater Rio. Police were able to trace the serial number of the weapon to determine its origin.
With Thursday’s seizure, police have confiscated 250 assault rifles within the past 5 months in Rio de Janeiro.
Assault rifles are the weapons preferred by drug trafficking gangs that control several of Rio’s main shantytowns, or “favelas,” since they enable them to attack the police from the positions they occupy on the crests of hills within the slums.
Murders in Rio totaled 7,699 in 2007, but – with the government’s aggressive plan to “pacify” the favelas and drive out the drug gangs – the number of killings fell to 4,666 in 2012, although they resurged to 6,248 last year.