Vehicles burn in the street after attacks in the city of Fortaleza, northeastern Brazil, Jan. 3, 2019.
Vehicles burn in the street after attacks in the city of Fortaleza, northeastern Brazil, Jan. 3, 2019.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - The attacks and fire-bombings sweeping Brazil's northeastern state of Ceara continued unabated Sunday despite the deployment of at least 300 members the elite, military-style National Police Force to help bring an end to the violence.

The state's public security department said that buses and cars were torched and gas stations were attacked in Fortaleza, the capital, and in at least six other cities. Police killed two suspects in a shootout. More than 100 people have been taken into custody since the violence that broke out on Wednesday.

The deployment of security forces in Ceara came days after the inauguration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain who was elected on pledges to crack down on crime and give security forces a free hand against criminals.

Earlier, he praised the move, saying “the people of Ceara need help at this moment.”

Authorities have said the attacks were ordered by organized crime groups in retaliation for plans to impose tighter controls in the state's prisons. Brazil's prison gangs are powerful and their reach extends outside the country's penitentiaries.

The deployment was ordered by Brazil's federal Justice and Public Security Ministry, now led by popular former anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro, at the request of Ceara Gov. Camilo Santana, citing the “urgent” nature of the threat.

Bolsonaro, who took office New Year's Day, has said he also plans to issue a presidential decree that would make it easier for Brazilians to legally own guns. Bolsonaro argued it was necessary for people to defend themselves.

While legal gun ownership is restricted, drug traffickers and other criminal groups are often heavily armed with automatic weapons. Brazil is the world leader in total annual homicides.