RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Ongoing attacks by criminal gangs in the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceara are quickly becoming a first security test for the freshly inaugurated government of President Jair Bolsonaro.
Criminals have repeatedly targeted public infrastructure and businesses, apparently retaliating against plans to strengthen control of the state's gang-run prisons.
Attacks seemed to escalate overnight, when a group attempted to blow up a bridge using explosives in the outskirts of Fortaleza, the state's capital city. Photos and videos shared on social media Tuesday show a hole in the cement of the bridge.
At least four buses and a construction site were torched Tuesday morning around Fortaleza. Authorities said they had arrested over 160 people in connections with assaults on banks, police stations and other public buildings.
Overall, the state's public security department reported some 160 incidents in dozens of municipalities.
Bolsonaro campaigned on the promise to end rising violence and restore sate authority over organized crime, and to help quash the rebellion, his Justice and Public Security Ministry deployed another 100 police forces Tuesday, adding to an existing contingent of about 300 men, including members of the elite National Police Force.
Local authorities believe the attacks are the result of a newly proposed state plan to combat gang activities in prisons. Many drug gangs are able to operate their business from overcrowded prisons.
Andre Costa, who leads Ceara's public security department, said the nomination of a new secretary to oversee the state's penitentiary was behind the uprising.
"The bandit only accepts the 'law of force'. (Prison or bullet)", tweeted Fernando Francischini, a lawmaker from the southern state of Parana. Francischini, a member of Bolsonaro's far-right Social Liberal Party, described the attacks as terrorism.