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Police in Brazil detain 1, search for 2 suspects in slaying of soccer referee

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BRASILIA, Brazil - Police in rural Brazil have detained one man and were seeking two others in the slaying of a soccer referee who was killed, dismembered and decapitated by spectators after he stabbed a player to death mid-match, a police official said Monday.

Officer Valter Costa, who was heading the investigation into the June 30 slayings, said police have detained Luis Moraes Souza, 27, who is suspected of pummeling the referee over the head and smashing a bottle of cachaca sugarcane rum onto his face. Souza's brother, Francisco, is among the two still being sought, Costa said.

The slayings began after the 20-year-old referee, Otavio Jordao da Silva, expelled player Josemir Santos Abreu, 31, from an amateur match in the small town of Centro do Meio, in the northern state of Maranhao. Angered by the expulsion, Abreu threw Silva to the ground. As he rose, Silva pulled a knife and stabbed Abreu in the chest, Costa said, and the player died on the way to the hospital.

Players and spectators then rushed Silva, tying him up by his arms and legs while Souza hit him over the head with a spike and then broke the bottle on his face. One of the suspects being sought, a man nicknamed "Pirolo," then took the knife that had been used to stab Abreu and stabbed the referee in the neck, said Costa. It was not immediately clear why Silva had been carrying the knife in the first place.

Souza's brother Francisco then used a sickle to cutting off Silva's arms, legs and head, which he placed on a spike in the middle of the field, Costa said. He added that Francisco may have been on drugs at the time.

Costa said violence was unusual in Centro de Meio, a remote rural community with little crime. He said those involved in the slayings were all from neighbouring towns.

While violent clashes between rival fans is common in Brazil, the brutality of the killings in Centro de Meio sent shockwaves through Brazil, which last month played host to the Confederations Cup and is gearing up to host next year's World Cup soccer tournament.

Paulo Storani, a professor and security expert who spent three decades in Rio's police forces, called the slayings "an isolated incident" and said they don't reflect on Brazil's ability to ensure security at during the World Cup.

"It's something that's completely out of the ordinary which took place in an isolated area of the poorest state in the country, an area where violence is very widespread," said Storani. "While it's true we are used to soccer violence in Brazil, this is completely off the charts of what we usually see."

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