A new report says that Brazil's largest and most powerful criminal organization is planning a spate of attacks against government officials to mark the anniversary of the group's founding, but questions remain regarding the validity of the threats and the gang's motivations for carrying them out.
Brazil's First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC) allegedly plans to kill a federal judge, federal prosecutor, federal deputy and at least four federal prison workers on their 24th anniversary on August 31, Brazilian news outlet UOL reported.
Cristiano Tavares Torquato, the director of the Porto Velho prison in the western state of Rondônia, has since notified the regional superintendent of the federal police to warn of the possible attacks, according to a letter obtained by UOL.
According to Torquato, the threats may be in response to the suspension of inmate visits -- which Brazil's National Penitentiary Department (Departamento Penitenciário Nacional - DEPEN) halted after the May 25 murder of a psychologist who worked at the Catanduvas federal prison -- as well as the prolonged detention of PCC members.
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In order to carry out the attacks, the PCC has allegedly created intelligence units to monitor the routines of their targets, a tactic the group has reportedly used in the past.
In September 2016, a number of PCC members allegedly rented a house next to Catanduvas federal prison guard Alex Belarmino Almeida Silva before murdering him on his way to work shortly after.
Silva's murder was allegedly ordered by PCC commander Roberto Soriano, alias "Tiriça," who was detained at the Catanduvas federal prison at the time, according to UOL. However, Tiriça was reportedly transferred to the Porto Velho federal prison after Silva's murder, which is where the latest threats have been made.
DEPEN told UOL that they have alerted public security forces at the state and federal level about the possible attacks. The PCC has already killed three prison officials so far this year.
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Brazil's PCC has been known to use violence in the past to exert control and dominance, and recent reports indicating the group's plans to target government officials may be another effort to try and do so, especially as they seem to have set their sights on expanding.
Desmond Arias, an associate professor at George Mason University who has studied gangs in Brazil, told InSight Crime that when the PCC launches these types of threats, it is usually an effort by the gang to "negotiate or renegotiate its relationship" with the government.
"The PCC is going through an expansion, and these threats, or rumors of them, might be to negotiate with other state governments where they're trying to root their power," Arias told InSight Crime.
However, he warned that the threats should be taken with a grain of salt, suggesting that the group might be leaking rumors of possible attacks in order to pressure the government into negotiations on separate issues.
Before suspending inmate visits, security officials reportedly noticed that inmates were using these visits to pass along orders outside of the prison's walls, and the threats could in part be an effort to pressure authorities into reinstating the visits.
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Still, Felipe Medeiros, an analyst at the consulting firm S-RM, told InSight Crime that the threats identified by Brazilian authorities should be taken "very seriously."
"Two things should be noted in this regard," Medeiros told InSight Crime. The "PCC has already started to promote the assassinations of correction officers; [and] every year, around the time of its anniversary, the organization plans this type of action."
Medeiros went on to explain that the threats have targeted those working at Brazil's four strictest penitentiaries, where the PCC's most influential leaders are detained, going on to echo Arias' feelings that the threats may be designed as a negotiating tactic.
"They are clearly aimed at intimidating these professionals and dissuading them from enforcing disciplinary rules – particularly ... access to cell phones and conjugal visitation," Medeiros told InSight Crime.