The largest city on Brazil’s north-east coast, Salvador is a major tourist destination and the site of a 56,500-seat stadium being readied for next year’s World Cup. It is also in the grip of an unprecedented wave of violence that has seen murder rates soar by more than 250 per cent.

The dense slums of the city, capital of Bahia state, are an impenetrable warren ruled by gangsters, who control the terrified and impoverished residents with intimidations, beatings and summary executions. Express kidnappings, where individuals are abducted and forced to withdraw funds from automated teller machines to secure their release, are common, as are muggings, robberies, pickpocketing, bag snatching and drug dealing.

Brazilian drug gangs regularly recruit minors to carry out their dirty work, because they often get lesser sentences, meaning that the most innocent face can hide a deadly killer.

With just over 13 months until the start of the World Cup and an expected mass influx of football fans, police in Salvador face a battle to take control of their city. But in a force notorious for brutality and corruption, they face opposition not only from criminal gangs but also a sceptical populace. These pictures show the brutal reality of life in the streets of Salvador’s slums.

 
Taking no chances: Police search youths for weapons and drugs while on patrol in the Nordeste de Amaralina slum complex in Salvador, Bahia State

Taking no chances: Police search youths for weapons and drugs while on patrol in the Nordeste de Amaralina slum complex in Salvador, Bahia State

 
Whose streets? A Brazilian drug gang member nicknamed Firecracker, 22, poses with a gun atop a hill overlooking a slum in Salvador, Bahia State

Whose streets? A Brazilian drug gang member nicknamed Firecracker, 22, poses with a gun atop a hill overlooking a Salvador slum

 

 
Armed and dangerous: A young gangster nicknamed Giant, 17, poses with a gun atop the same hill. Salvador is in the grip of an unprecedented wave of violence that has seen murder rates soar by more than 250 per cent

Armed and dangerous: A young gangster nicknamed Giant, 17, poses with a gun atop the same hill. Salvador, which is a major tourist destination and a host city for the 2014 World Cup, is in the grip of an unprecedented wave of violence that has seen murder rates soar by more than 250 per cent

 

 
Warriors: Salvador, capital of Bahia state, is the largest city on Brazil's north-east coast, a major tourist destination and the site of a 56,500-seat stadium being readied for next year's World Cup

Warriors: The city, capital of Bahia state, is the largest city on Brazil’s north-east coast, is the site of a 56,500-seat stadium being readied for next year’s World Cup

 

 
Summary killing: The body of a person identified by the police as a transvestite named Rodrigo, lies on the street where he was shot in Salvador's Alto do Cabrito slum

Summary killing: The body of a person identified by the police as a transvestite named Rodrigo, lies on the street where he was shot in Salvador’s Alto do Cabrito slum

 

 
Police forensic workers remove Rodrigo's body from the densely populated back streets as residents look on

Grim work: Police forensic workers remove Rodrigo’s body from the densely populated backs treets as residents look on. The dense slums of the city are an impenetrable warren ruled by gangsters, who control the terrified and impoverished residents with intimidations, beatings and summary executions.

 

 
So many tears: Ana Claudia, who witnessed her son Reinaldo being beaten and shot dead by drug traffickers, cries during an interview in the Fazendo Couto slum

So many tears: Ana Claudia, who witnessed her son Reinaldo being beaten and shot dead by drug traffickers, cries during an interview in the Fazendo Couto slum

 

 
Residents stare at the body of a woman shot in the head in the Sao Cristovao slum

Senseless murders: Residents stare at the body of a woman shot in the head in the Sao Cristovao slum

 

 
The body of a woman is picked up by police forensic workers after being shot in the face on the night of Good Friday, in Salvador's Ondina neighbourhood

Unholy: The body of a woman is picked up by police forensic workers after being shot in the face on the night of Good Friday, in Salvador’s Ondina neighbourhood

 

 
A Brazilian drug dealer nicknamed Pilintra, 26, poses with with two pistols

Armed to the teeth: A Brazilian drug dealer nicknamed Pilintra, 26, poses with with two pistols near his home in the Salvador slums

 

 
Still just a boy: Giant, 17, poses with his gun and his medallion of St George. Brazilian drug gangs regularly recruit minors, who are subject to lesser sentences under the country's penal code

Still just a boy: Giant, 17, poses with his gun and his medallion of St George. Brazilian drug gangs regularly recruit minors, who often get lesser sentences 

 
Life must go on: A policeman armed with an assault rifle patrols as a family crosses a street in the Nordeste de Amaralina slum complex

Life must go on: A policeman armed with an assault rifle patrols as a family crosses a street in the Nordeste de Amaralina slum complex

 

 
Starting young: A boy makes a double gun gesture as he plays on the street of the Nordeste de Amaralina slum complex as a policeman, back right, patrols the area

Starting young: A boy makes a double gun gesture as he plays on the street of the Nordeste de Amaralina slum complex as a policeman, back right, patrols the area

 

 
Behind enemy lines: Police officers patrol the narrow, winding alleys of the Nordeste de Amaralina slum complex in Salvador

Behind enemy lines: Police officers patrol the narrow, winding alleys of the Nordeste de Amaralina slum complex in Salvador

 
Scars of war: Police patrol past the 'rifle wall' pockmarked by bullets from many shootouts between drug gangs and police in the Nordeste de Amaralina slum complex

Scars of war: Police patrol past the ‘rifle wall’ pockmarked by bullets from many shootouts between drug gangs and police in the Nordeste de Amaralina slum 

 

 
Climate of fear: A policeman points his pistol through his car window at a passer-by as he patrols the Nordeste de Amaralina slum complex

Climate of fear: A policeman points his pistol through his car window at a passer-by as he patrols the Nordeste de Amaralina slum complex

 

 
Alert: Armed police react to a perceived threat as they prowl through the Nordeste de Amaralina slum in search of gangsters

Alert: Armed police react to a perceived threat as they prowl through the Nordeste de Amaralina slum in search of gangsters

 

 
Police special forces in training to operate against the Salvador drug gangs

Police special forces in training to operate against the Salvador drug gangs: With just over 13 months until the start of the World Cup and an expected mass influx of football fans, police in Salvador face a battle to re-take control of their city from the gangsters who rule its ghettoes

 

 
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? But in a force notorious for brutality and corruption, they face opposition not only from criminal gangs but also a sceptical populace

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? But in a force notorious for brutality and corruption, they face opposition not only from criminal gangs but also a sceptical populace

 

 
Military tactics: A huge show of force may be needed to protect World Cup visitors in a city where kidnappings, murders, muggings robberies, pickpocketing, bag snatching and drug dealing are commonplace

Military tactics: A huge show of force may be needed to protect World Cup visitors in a city where kidnappings, murders, muggings robberies, pickpocketing, bag snatching and drug dealing are commonplace

 

 
Under surveillance: A police officer watches live security cameras aimed at different points of the city where violence is common, at a command centre in Salvador

Under surveillance: A police officer watches live security cameras aimed at different points of the city where violence is common, at a command centre in Salvador

 
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