For two consecutive nights, the Brazilian city of Natal and twenty other localities in the state of Rio Grande do Norte suffered a series of coordinated attacks on courthouses, police stations, stores, and public buses, which have been attributed to a criminal organization called the Crime Syndicate. According to authorities, this gang, which controls some prisons, is reportedly protesting recent police operations. As a result of these attacks, many people have decided to stay in their homes, while the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has sent federal security forces to support local police.
The alleged leader of this wave of violence, identified as José Wilson da Silva Filho, nicknamed “Argentino,” and aged 29, was reportedly killed in a confrontation with police in the city of João Pessoa, in the neighboring state of Paraíba. In addition, some 40 people have been arrested for their alleged involvement in these attacks.
Initially, state authorities reported that the wave of violence was in response to several recent arrests and seizures of weapons and drugs, but it was later reported that the criminal gang was also demanding the return of intimate visits, televisions, and light bulbs in the cells, which were eliminated six years ago after a riot in which some thirty people died. Currently, only prison corridors have lights to prevent prisoners from using the electricity grid to charge clandestine cell phones.
The governor of Rio Grande do Norte, Fatima Bezerra, has stated that although violence has decreased, it still persists. On Monday night, attacks were perpetrated in 14 cities; on Tuesday night, in 18 localities; and today, incidents have been reported in four municipalities. As a result of the attacks, some public services in Natal and Mossoró have been suspended, including bus lines, clinics, schools, universities, and garbage collection. In Natal, only school transport, tourist buses, and taxis are operating.
For its part, the Federal Government has sent around 100 members of the National Force to Natal to help control the situation, and another 120 uniformed personnel are expected to arrive in the next few hours. The Minister of Justice, Flávio Dino, has promised that if the climate of confrontation persists, there will be even more reinforcements.
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