December 1, 2005

Bus passengers burned alive in spate of Rio violence

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Reuters) - Five bus passengers,
among them a mother and her baby, were burned alive when
gangsters torched the vehicle in Rio de Janeiro, police said on

Later, four men were found murdered in an apparent

The violence was shocking even by the standards of Rio,
which has one of the world's highest murder rates and whose
sprawling slums are ruled by rival drug gangs.

Police said they believed the bus attack was linked to the
killing of a gang boss Leonardo de Souza Ribeiro in a shootout
with police earlier on Tuesday in the Quitungo slum.

Gang members tried to force residents to stage a protest
but they refused, reports said.

That night, a group of gangsters stopped a bus in the
street, splashed gasoline over the interior and the passengers
then set it alight, blocking the passengers from leaving. Five
people died, including a woman and her one-year-old daughter,
and 11 were badly injured, police said.

Drug gangs often torch buses in Rio after forcing the
passengers off, but this was thought to be the first time
people were killed in such a way.

"This was a cowardly act against innocent civilians,"
Public Security Secretary Marcelo Itagiba told reporters.

He declined to characterize it as a terrorist act, saying:
"Terrorism presupposes an ideology which these cold-blooded
killers don't have."

Police mounted a sweep through the slums to search for the
killers. But late on Wednesday the corpses of four men were
found in a car, victims of a reprisal.

A note left by the bodies said: "Here are the four who
burned the bus. We don't accept terrorism." They were still
searching for a fifth person, another note said.

Police said the car murders were carried out by gangsters
and they were investigating links between the two incidents.

Gangs control most of Rio's slums, which are bases for the
sale of cocaine and other drugs to Rio residents of all
classes. Gang warfare often spills out in the streets, even
closing main thoroughfares in the seaside city.