Wave of gang attacks hits northeastern Brazil

Brasilia (AFP): Criminal factions torched cars, shot up public buildings and sowed terror Wednesday in a wave of predawn attacks on numerous cities in northeastern Brazil that has now lasted two nights, authorities said.

Officials said the attacks in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, which began late Monday, were retaliation for new prison regulations cracking down on organized criminal gangs’ operations within the penal system.

Around 20 cities were hit in the first night of violence, and at least six in the second, including the state capital, Natal.

At least one person was killed in clashes with police, according to news website G1. Two other people were wounded, and 28 arrested, it said.

Public Security Minister Flavio Dino said on Twitter that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government had deployed 220 federal police to reinforce state security forces, and was prepared increase the deployment “to whatever number is necessary.”

Local media carried images of cars, trucks and buses in flames, and police vehicles, businesses and government buildings riddled with bullets.

“This is a reaction by so-called organized crime to the firm and assertive measures the government of Rio Grande do Norte is taking to fight criminal activity and violence in the prison system,” Governor Fatima Bezerra told CNN Brasil.

Brazil’s severely overcrowded prison system is notorious for security failures and corruption that enable criminal bosses to continue running their operations from behind bars.

It has also been hit by numerous deadly riots and clashes between rival gangs.