Suspects in Amazon rainforest disappearances confessed to killing men: local media

Two suspects have confessed to killing and dismembering British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, TV Globo reported on Wednesday, citing police sources, after the men went missing for more than a week in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

The federal police had said in a statement earlier that they were still searching for Phillips and Pereira in what they described as a homicide investigation after arresting the suspects. Band News also reported at least one of the suspects had confessed.

Reuters witnesses saw police take a masked and hooded man they described as a suspect out on the river where the men vanished. Police did not comment on the reported confession.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Wednesday afternoon he expected the case to be resolved in the coming hours.

Police identified the suspects as fisherman Amarildo da Costa, also known as Pelado, who was arrested last week on weapons charges, and his brother Oseney da Costa, 41, or Dos Santos, who was taken into custody on Tuesday night.

Oseney da Costa, centre, is escorted by federal police officers to a police station in Atalaia do Norte, Brazil, on Tuesday. (Avener/Prado-Agencia Publica via AP)

The suspects’ family have denied they had any role in the men’s disappearance. Public defenders representing the brothers could not immediately be reached for comment.

The reports suggest a grim conclusion to a case that has raised global alarm, hanging over Bolsonaro at a regional summit last week and stirring concern in the British Parliament on Wednesday.

Phillips, a freelance reporter who has written for the Guardian and the Washington Post, was doing research for a book on the trip with Pereira, a former head of isolated and recently contacted tribes at federal Indigenous affairs agency, Funai.

They were in a remote jungle area near the border with Colombia and Peru called the Javari Valley, which is home to the world’s largest number of uncontacted Indigenous people. The region has been invaded by illegal fishermen, hunters, loggers and miners, and police call it a key route for drug trafficking.

The brothers were seen meeting on the Itaquai River just moments after Phillips and Pereira passed by on June 5, a witness told police in a report seen by Reuters.

Federal police are seen after arriving in Atalaia do Norte, Brazil, on Tuesday. (Joao Laet/AFP/Getty Images)

The police report said witnesses heard Pereira say he had received threats from Amarildo da Costa. In his previous role with Funai, Pereira had been instrumental in stopping illegal gold mining and fishing by poachers on rivers inhabited by Indigenous tribes of the Javari.

News of the men’s disappearance echoed globally, with human rights organizations, environmentalists and press freedom advocates urging Bolsonaro to step up the search.

Bolsonaro, who once faced tough questioning from Phillips at a news conference over weakening environmental law enforcement, said last week that the two men “were on an adventure that is not recommended.”

A demonstrator holds a poster with the images of Phillips, left, and Pereira in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday. (Bruna Prado/The Associated Press)

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro suggested that Phillips had made enemies by writing about environmental issues.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament on Wednesday he was deeply concerned about the disappearance of Phillips and said his government was working with Brazilian authorities investigating the case.

“What we’ve told the Brazilians is that we stand ready to provide all the support that they may need,” he said.