Brazil’s top militia leader surrenders amid fears of rival attacks.

Luiz Antônio da Silva Braga, commonly known as Zinho and the leader of Rio de Janeiro’s largest militia group, has surrendered to federal police, fearing attacks from rival gangs. Zinho, who had been on the run since 2018, took over the leadership of the militia group after his brother, Wellington da Silva Braga (Ecko), was killed in 2021. In an effort to ensure his safety, authorities have placed Zinho in a 6-square-meter isolation cell at the Bangu 1 maximum-security prison.

The militias in Rio de Janeiro, initially formed by former law enforcement personnel to combat crime, have evolved over the years and are now involved in activities such as drug trafficking and extortion. Zinho’s group is estimated to control around 10% of Rio’s metropolitan area.

Zinho faces multiple charges, including forming a criminal organization, money laundering, extortion, bribing public officials, and participating in the killing of former Rio councilor Jerônimo Guimarães Filho (Jerominho) in August 2022. Authorities suggest that Zinho’s surrender could potentially lead to a plea deal that implicates police forces, politicians, and businessmen. The militia leader’s arrest is seen as a victory for Rio’s police forces, and there are expectations of further investigations into the connections and financial activities of organized crime in the region.