A video has emerged depicting the beheading of a teenager in Brazil, in what could be an escalation of a brutal turf war between two rival gangs.
Police are investigating a video believed to show the decapitation of 16 or 17-year-old Israel Melo Junior, whose head was discovered in a bag on February 2 in the southern state of Santa Catarina, Globo reported.
The motivation behind the crime is so far unknown, however according to Estadão it is suspected that Junior's murder was the result of fighting between the gangs First Catarinense Group (Primeiro Grupo da Catarinense - PGC) and First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC). PGC allegedly controls drug trafficking in Santa Catarina, while PCC is based in São Paolo state.
SEE ALSO: PCC News and Profile
In the video, a man wearing a mask uses an axe to behead the teenager, who appears to be dead. The body receives approximately 30 blows. At least two other people, whose faces are covered, also appear. The group seems to be in a forest.
Some hypotheses currently being explored include the possibility that the young boy collaborated with a rival gang, that there was a clash over debts, and that the decapitation was part of a ritual. The teenager had previously been involved in drug trafficking-related offenses, according to the Military Police.
Police official Fabiano Silveira stated that the area in which the boy's head was found, the northern part of Joinville district, is known for being a disputed area for drug trafficking.
The rest of the victim's body has not yet been found.
InSight Crime Analysis
The gruesome video appears to be connected to a violent push for territorial expansion by the PCC. According to police intelligence, Brazil's largest gang has for some time had its sights set on expanding its drug and arms trafficking operations into Santa Catarina.
SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profiles
The PCC has been spreading its tentacles since at least 2006, although past incursions into Santa Catarina were mostly pacific, with local gangs receiving training and sharing criminal earnings with PCC members.
Now, however, the PCC is being met with resistance by the PGC, which is considered a local faction of the larger gang. The state governor of Santa Catarina, Raimundo Colombo, acknowledged this in 2015 by saying "There is fighting between PCC and PGC. They battle it out all the time."
The dissemination of the beheading video online is a potential sign the turf war between the PCC and PGC has intensified.
"Posting a video of a decapitation online in a public forum is unprecedented," Lloyd Belton, a political risk analyst at the consultancy firm S-RM, told InSight Crime. "[This] would indicate that the perpetrators clearly want to get a message across to rival gang members and also garner public attention."
That said, such barbaric acts are not uncommon among criminal groups in Brazil. Decapitations themselves are "a common method of execution used by gang members against other gang members... or informant[s]," according to S-RM's local security source.