Brazil’s federal police arrest top criminal leader Zinho after negotiations

Brazil’s federal police said one of the country’s top criminal leaders surrendered Sunday after negotiations with local authorities.

Luiz Antônio da Silva Braga, better known as Zinho, is the top leader of the largest militia group in the state of Rio de Janeiro. He had 12 arrest warrants issued against him, federal police said.

“After the formalities due to his arrest, the inmate was taken for medical forensics and then sent to the state’s prison system, where he will remain available for our courts,” federal police said.

Militias emerged in the 1990s when they originally were made up mainly of former police officers, firefighters and soldiers who wanted to combat lawlessness in their neighborhoods. They charged residents for protection and other services, and more recently moved into drug trafficking themselves.

Zinho’s group dominates Rio’s west region, where several members of his gang were killed in recent years. He had been on the run since 2018.

Ricardo Cappelli, executive secretary of the federal Justice Ministry, said on social media that the federal police had conducted several investigations until it reached Zinho.

“This is work, work, work,” Capelli said.

Zinho’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

The militias are believed to control about 10% of Rio’s metropolitan area, according to a study last year by the non-profit Fogo Cruzado and a security-focused research group at the Fluminense Federal University. The militias are distinct from drug trafficking gangs that control important areas of Rio.

The area dominated by Zinho’s group made news in October when gang members set fire to at least 35 buses in apparent retaliation for police killing one of their leaders. The attack took place far from Rio’s tourist districts and caused no casualties, but it underlined the ability of the militias to cause chaos and inflict damage.