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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 April 2006, 09:28 GMT 10:28 UK
Brazil's evolving kidnap culture
One person in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo is kidnapped every two days. And the style of abduction is constantly changing, making life for the police even harder.

Anti-kidnapping squad gunman on a raid
The police and are in a never-ending war with kidnapping gangs

Using the cover of an old ambulance vehicle, Sao Paulo's anti-kidnapping squad drives to Paraisopolis, one of the largest and most dangerous neighbourhoods in the area.

The man in charge of the team, Wagner, has lost many men in raids like this one.

"If the bandits find out you're a policeman, they'll kill you," says Wagner. "It's a war."

They are hunting down a gang of "flash kidnappers", responsible for a form of cashpoint robbery.

Victims are made to withdraw their daily cash limit every 24 hours and this can go on for days.

Sadly in Brazil, everything that's bad becomes a fashion
Grafite, Brazilian footballer

"You can tell they have money by the way they dress, the car they drive," says one teenage kidnapper about how he selects his prey.

Currently, flash kidnapping is the most common way of extracting money from victims by force and can develop into full-blown kidnapping with a ransom demand if the victim seems worth it.

But as policemen like Wagner know, to assume the probable course of any kidnapping scenario in Brazil is foolish when the strategies of their opponents are varied and quickly evolving.

City of unequals

A child in tattered shoes standing in front of a football
Many of Brazil's football stars were discovered on pitches in favelas

Home to 20 million people, Sao Paulo is a city of stark contrast.

It is a city where businessmen travel to work by helicopter, while millions try to fight their way out of some of the most dangerous slums in the world.

And for young people growing up in the favelas, crime is often the simplest way of making money.

One teenager from a favela admits: "One day you wake up and decide to do something with your life. Your start with robbery, kidnapping... whatever comes your way."

But many of these same teenagers also once dreamt of escaping their poverty through football.

And in a recent twist in Brazil's dangerous cycle of kidnapping, the worlds of crime and football collided. Footballers' mothers became lucrative targets.

National game

On 6 November 2004 Marina da Silva Souza, mother of Brazilian football's brightest young hope Robinho, was abducted.

Robinho (full name Robson de Souza)
Robinho now plays at Real Madrid with fellow star Brazilian players

The kidnapper's first demand was that Robinho stop playing football - a psychological ploy to show that they were in control.

Next they sent him a video tape of his mother in captivity, in which the kidnappers could be seen cutting off her hair.

"I don't know what sort of people do these things," says Robinho, "they are people with evil in their hearts."

After 41 days, Robinho agreed to pay a ransom of $75,000 (43,000) for the release of his mother.

But this was just the first of five footballers' mothers to be kidnapped over a period of only five months.

Easy target

The second woman to be targeted was the mother of the Sao Paulo striker Grafite.

During the kidnapping at the family home, Grafite's father was tied up and gagged.

My justification is the lack of opportunities in Brazil
Celio Marcelo da Silva, kidnapper

"We thought that when it happened to Robinho it would be an isolated case because he is a big star in Brazil and abroad," says Grafite.

"Sadly in Brazil, everything that's bad becomes a fashion. Brazilians are like that. First it was kidnapping businessmen, then their wives and children and now they see an easy target in footballers."

Twenty-two hours after Grafite's mother was snatched, a local takeaway delivery man dropped food off at an isolated farmhouse.

When the customers insisted on leaving the money at the front gate, he grew suspicious and tipped off the local police.

Two officers went to investigate and found her. Two hours later, the kidnappers, who had fled the scene, were arrested.

'Bin Laden'

Kidnapper Celio Marcelo da Silva, also known as Bin Laden
"Bin Laden" - real name Celio Marcelo da Silva - admits his guilt

Shortly after Robinho's mother's release in December 2004, the police arrested four people in connection with her kidnapping and the suspected ring leader, Celio Marcelo da Silva, was seized in August 2005.

Widely known by his chosen alias of Bin Laden, da Silva was Brazil's most wanted kidnapper.

He blames the media for the spate of kidnappings in the soccer world.

"It all started because people copied the Robinho kidnapping... the media promoted it all," he says. "If they go around saying that there is a lot of money involved, it doesn't matter whose mother it is... people will kidnap them.

"My justification is the lack of opportunities in Brazil. Before you know it, you're doing what you're doing and there's no way back."

Threatened existence

In September 2005, Robinho left Brazil for Real Madrid in Spain and took his family with him.

Kidnapper wearing a balaclava
Fear of kidnapping has prompted some celebrities to leave Brazil

The threat of kidnapping was a major factor in his decision.

Five footballers' mothers were kidnapped in total.

Two of them were rescued during police operations and three once ransoms had been paid.

Flash kidnapping and more organised snatches continue, although the phenomenon of kidnapping footballers' mothers seems to be over.

The first prison wing exclusively for kidnappers is also being constructed, in the hope that isolating them will stop other inmates learning the latest trends.

Life for Wagner and the anti-kidnapping team in Sao Paulo remains the same as they battle against the city's criminal kidnap gangs, putting their own lives at risk on a daily basis.

During filming of the BBC documentary Kidnap Cops, four policemen were killed over a period of just two weeks.

Kidnap Cops was broadcast on Thursday, 13 April, 2006 at 2100 BST on BBC Two.

SEE ALSO:
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