A massive police operation against drug-traffickers in a Rio de Janeiro favela Thursday left at least 24 suspects and a policeman dead, Brazilian media reports and AFP correspondents said.
The early-morning raid turned the impoverished neighborhood of Jacarezinho, on Rio's north side, into a battlefield, with residents posting videos on social media of explosions, heavy gunfire and helicopters hovering overhead.
Large groups of police could be seen streaming into the favela as frightened residents tentatively went about their business once the gunfire died down, AFP journalists said.
"The investigation stemmed from information received by the child protection unit that drug-traffickers have been recruiting children and teenagers to join the area's dominant crime gang," police said in a statement. "These criminals perpetrate acts including drug-trafficking, cargo robbery, pedestrian assaults, homicide and hijacking subway trains, among other crimes in the region."
At least two people were wounded when the subway car they were riding in was apparently caught in the crossfire during the operation, news site G1 reported, citing the police.
Residents reported seeing corpses lying on the pavement in pools of blood, and numerous bodies being taken out in an armoured police vehicle, a local community leader told AFP, asking for safety reasons that his name not be published.
TV network GloboNews showed aerial images of armed suspects fleeing from one residence to another in the densely packed neighbourhood, passing what looked like high-powered rifles from hand to hand.
The neighbourhood is considered a base for the Comando Vermelho, or Red Command, the Brazilian beach city's biggest drug-gang.
The operation came despite a Supreme Court ruling barring police from carrying out raids in Brazil's impoverished favelas during the coronavirus pandemic except in "absolutely exceptional circumstances."
Police did not immediately respond to a request for further information on what led to the raid.
Rights group Instituto Fogo Cruzado ("The Crossfire Institute"), which tracks the often violent police operations that are commonplace in Rio, said it was the deadliest such raid since it began monitoring five years ago.
Police said the sting grew out of a surveillance operation that obtained a warrant to wire-tap suspects' communications.
That led them to identify 21 gang members "responsible for ensuring the gang's territorial dominance with firearms," they said.
The group "had set up a war-style structure with hundreds of 'soldiers' equipped with rifles, pistols, grenades, bulletproof vests, camouflage fatigues and other military accessories," they said.