Rio criminal gangs may have slain black activist: minister

The assassination-style murder of politician and activist Marielle Franco on March 14 shocked Brazil and made headlines across the world

Brasília (Brazil) (AFP) – Shadowy criminal gangs operating in Rio de Janeiro are the chief suspects in last month’s murder of Marielle Franco, a prominent black rights activist and city councilor, a government minister said Monday.

“The most likely hypothesis is that it was done by the Rio de Janeiro militias,” Public Security Minister Raul Jungmann told CBN radio.

Without providing further details, Jungmann said investigators were “following one or two strong leads.”

Franco was gunned down in central Rio on March 14 in what police say appears to have been a targeted assassination. So far, no arrests have been made.

The 38-year-old was elected to Rio’s municipal council in 2016 and made a name for herself as an outspoken activist against racism and police brutality in Rio’s sprawling favelas, the poor neighborhoods where security forces battle heavily armed drug gangs.

Just days before her death, she had accused one police unit of acting as a death squad.

The organized nature of the killing immediately prompted speculation that Franco was murdered by one of the militias. 

The groups, composed largely of former and serving police officers, run protection rackets and other mafia-like activities in Rio, while fighting against drug gangs.