Rio councilor and paramilitary member accused in activist's death

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) –


A Rio de Janeiro city councilor and a leader of the city's underground paramilitary militias have been accused of masterminding the high-profile killing of black rights activist Marielle Franco, local media reported Wednesday.

Reports in O Globo and O Dia newspapers quoted an unidentified police informant pointing the finger at councilman Marcello Siciliano and ex-policeman Orlando Oliveira de Araujo, who is behind bars but allegedly remains a militia commander.

The brazen March 14 murder of Franco, which had the hallmarks of a professional hit, shocked Brazilians and prompted a large demonstration in Rio.

Franco, a rare black city council member, had become a prominent critic of police violence in Rio and what she said was the targeting of blacks in the city's poverty stricken favela neighborhoods.

Colleagues say the leftist politician was killed because she had angered police and militias, which are shadowy gangs with close links to the police.

According to the informant, Siciliano and Oliveira de Araujo ordered Franco's killing because of her human rights activism in the violent west of Rio -- Siciliano's political stronghold and the militia leader's main base.

"The ex-policeman was a kind of foreman for the councilor," the informant, who reportedly asked for protection in exchange for his testimony to police, was quoted as saying by O Globo, which first reported the story.

According to the reports, the militia leader was able to order the murder from prison.

Siciliano said in a statement that the allegations were "cowardice."

"In addition to being my work colleague, Marielle was my friend," he said.

On Wednesday, he told journalists: "I'm being massacred on social media for something said by a person whose credibility is unknown. I never had political conflicts (with Franco)."