Victory in a decade-long turf war fought in the northeastern Brazilian state of Paraíba has allowed Okaida, a local gang named after the Islamic terror group Al-Qaeda, to finally broaden its ambitions and muscle in on the neighboring state of Pernambuco.
The gang is now believed to have as many as 6,000 members in Paraíba alone, mostly younger members attracted by Okaida’s reputation on social media, according to a state government investigation.
Created in the mid-2000s, Okaida did not originally make much noise outside its home state. It was mostly involved in a long and bloody turf war with rival gang, Estados Unidos (United States).
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However, losing their ally does not appear to have hindered Okaida’s growth. The group joined forces with Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV) and Familia del Norte, to counterbalance aggressive PCC moves.
Evidence of Okaida’s arrival into Pernambuco came last year with the arrest of gang members in the city of Zona da Mata Norte. Almost 200 police officers and several helicopters took part in this raid, showing how seriously authorities responded to the group's spread.
Several killings in the town of Camutangam, Pernambuco, were also attributed to the gang in 2018, with reports that they forced certain local residents out of their homes and took them over.
But Okaida appear to be set to stay in Pernambuco. In early April, another gang member was caught in the state capital of Recife, involved in selling crack and carrying out robberies.
InSight Crime Analysis
Okaida and their rivals, Estados Unidos, drew their names from their very enmity. Okaida took their name from Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist group, and Estados Unidos named themselves after the terrorists' enemy.
But in a reversal of history, recent years have seen Okaida steadily gain the upper hand across Paraíba, taking territory in the regions of Mandacaru, Bola da Rede and Novais.
State security officials say Okaida has gained more members than Estados Unidos, outmuscling their enemies on the street. In prisons, however, the factions often have their own separate prison wings and clashes have turned deadly.
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Okaida’s recruitment strategy has largely depended on social media -- posting rap videos, pulling off PR stunts and showing off tattoos of Chucky, the killer doll.
In October 2018, to celebrate its anniversary, Okaida orchestrated the simultaneous launching of big firework displays in six cities across Paraíba.
One rap video, recorded by gang members in prison in 2017, rose to attention recently as news of Okaida’s success began to spread.
Although Okaida’s 6,000 members seems small compared to the 30,000 or so members claimed nationwide by the PCC, their regional focus and ability to attract new bodies makes the gang a criminal force to be reckoned with in Brazil’s northeast.