RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Multiple deaths were reported during a police raid Thursday in Rio de Janeiro’s largest complex of favelas, or low-income communities, but the exact toll remained unclear.
An officer and two other individuals were killed and a woman was injured, an early police statement said. The Rio-based newspaper O Globo, among other outlets, reported that the woman was pronounced dead after being taken to a nearby hospital.
Upon arriving just beyond the site of the operation, Associated Press reporters saw residents carrying four bodies as bystanders shouted, “We want peace!” Residents said that more bodies were still inside the favela and that those who attempted to help the injured risked arrest.
“It’s a massacre inside, which police are calling an operation,” one woman told AP, speaking on the condition of anonymity because she feared reprisals from authorities. ”They’re not letting us help (victims),” she added, saying she saw one man arrested for attempting to do so.
Police said in a statement that the raid targeted a criminal group in Complexo do Alemao that stole vehicles and cargo and robbed banks as well as invaded nearby neighborhoods.
Earlier this year, Brazil’s Supreme Court established a series of conditions for police to conduct raids in Rio’s favelas as a means to reduce police killings and violations of human rights. The court ordered that lethal force be used only in situations in which all other means have been exhausted and when necessary to protect life.
The ruling came in response to a raid on the Jacarezinho favela in 2021 that resulted in 28 people being killed. As was the case Thursday, an officer died during that raid, which some speculated at the time was the cause for subsequent abuse and summary executions.
Thursday’s operation began before dawn and was still underway at midday. Nearly 400 police officers were involved, including Rio’s tactical police unit, backed up by four helicopters and 10 bullet-proofed vehicles, according to the police statement.
Videos circulating on social media showed intense shootouts between criminals as well as a police helicopter flying low over the small, brick houses. Rio’s police have used helicopters to shoot at targets, even in densely populated residential areas, and video showed shots being fired from the favela at the aircraft.
In another video shared by Voz da Comunidade, a community news outlet focused on Rio’s favelas, residents can be seen calling for peace and waving white cloths from their windows and rooftops.