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German-employed death squad murders Soviet civilians, 1941
German-employed death squad murders Soviet civilians, 1941

A death squad is an armed group whose primary activity is carrying out extrajudicial killings or forced disappearances as part of political repression, genocide, ethnic cleansing, or revolutionary terror. Except in rare cases in which they are formed by an insurgency, domestic or foreign governments actively participate in, support, or ignore the death squad's activities. Death squads are distinct from assassination from their permanent organization and the larger number of victims (typically thousands or more) who may not be prominent individuals. Other violence, such as rape, torture, arson, or bombings may be carried out alongside murders.[1][2] They may comprise a secret police force, paramilitary militia groups, government soldiers, policemen, or combinations thereof. They may also be organized as vigilantes, bounty hunters, mercenaries, or contract killers. When death squads are not controlled by the state, they may consist of insurgent forces or organized crime, such as the ones used by cartels.


Although the term "death squad" did not rise to notoriety until the activities of such groups became widely known in Central and South America during the 1970s and 80s, death squads have been employed under different guises throughout history. The term was first used by the fascist Iron Guard in Romania. It officially installed Iron Guard death squads in 1936 in order to kill political enemies.[3] It was also used during the Battle of Algiers by Paul Aussaresses.[4]

Cold War usage

In Latin America, death squads first appeared in Brazil where a group called Esquadrão da Morte (literally "Death Squad") emerged in the 1960s; they subsequently spread to Argentina and Chile in the 1970s, and they were later used in Central America during the 1980s. Argentina used extrajudicial killings as a way of crushing the liberal and communist opposition to the military junta during the "Dirty War" of the 1970s. For example, Alianza Anticomunista Argentina was a far-right death squad mainly active during the "Dirty War". The Chilean military regime of 1973–1990 also committed such killings. See Operation Condor for examples.

During the Salvadoran Civil War, death squads achieved notoriety on 24 March 1980, when a sniper assassinated Archbishop Óscar Romero as he said Mass inside a convent chapel. In December 1980, three American nuns, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Maura Clarke, and a lay worker, Jean Donovan, were gang raped and murdered by a military unit later found to have been acting on specific orders. Death squads were instrumental in killing hundreds of real and suspected Communists. Priests who were spreading liberation theology, such as Father Rutilio Grande, were often targeted as well. The murderers were found to have been soldiers of the Salvadoran military, which was receiving U.S. funding and military advisors during the Carter administration. These events prompted outrage in the U.S. and led to a temporary cutoff in military aid at the end of his presidency.[5] Death Squad activity stretched well into the Reagan years (1981–1989) as well.[citation needed]

Honduras also had death squads active through the 1980s, the most notorious of which was the army unit Battalion 316. Hundreds of people, teachers, politicians, and union leaders were assassinated by government-backed forces. Battalion 316 received substantial training from the United States Central Intelligence Agency.[6]

In Southeast Asia, extrajudicial killings were conducted by both sides during the Vietnam War.

After being caught dumping the bodies of his victims during the Tet Offensive in Saigon, Nguyễn Văn Lém, the commander of a Viet Cong unit tasked with murdering South Vietnamese police officers and their families, was extrajudicially executed on camera by Police General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan on 1 February 1968.

Recent use

As of 2010, death squads have continued to be active in several locations, including Chechnya,[7] Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Colombia, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Philippines, among others.

During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian soldiers captured by the Ukrainian army stated that Russian death squads have been activated by Vladimir Putin to kill soldiers that returned after entering Ukraine. When contacting their parents, they learnt that they have started making preparations for the soldier's funeral. As a result, Russian soldiers who decide not to fight chose to surrender rather than desert.[8][9][10]

By continent



Main article: Extrajudicial executions in Egypt

The Iron Guard of Egypt was a pro-palace political movement or a secret palace organization of the Kingdom of Egypt which assassinated Farouk of Egypt's enemies or a secret unit with a licence to kill, which was believed to personally take orders from Farouk. It was involved in several deadly incidents.

Ivory Coast

Death squads are reportedly active in this country.[11][12]

This has been condemned by the US[13] but appears to be difficult to stop. Moreover, there is no proof as to whom is behind the killings.[14]

In an interview with the Pan-African magazine "Jeune Afrique", Laurent Gbagbo accused one of the opposition leaders, Alassane Ouattara (ADO), to be the main organizer of the media frenzy around his wife's involvement in the killing squads. He also successfully sued and won, in French courts, in cases against the French newspapers that made the accusations.[15]


In December 2014, Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Police Unit officers confessed to Al-Jazeera that they were responsible for almost 500 of the extrajudicial killings. The murders reportedly totalled several hundred homicides every year. They included the assassination of Abubaker Shariff Ahmed "Makaburi", an Al-Shabaab associate from Kenya, who was among 21 Islamic extremists allegedly murdered by the Kenyan police force since 2012. According to the agents, they resorted to the killing after the Kenya Police could not successfully prosecute terror suspects. In doing so, the officers indicated that they were acting on the direct orders of Kenya's National Security Council, which consisted of the Kenyan President, Deputy President, Chief of the Defence Forces, Inspector General of Police, National Security Intelligence Service Director, Cabinet Secretary of Interior, and Principal Secretary of Interior. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and the National Security Council of Kenya members denied operating an extrajudicial assassination program. Additionally, the officers suggested that Western security agencies provided intelligence for the program, including the whereabouts and activities of government targets- alleging that the British government supplied further logistics in the form of equipment and training. One Kenyan officer within the council's General Service Unit also indicated that Israeli instructors taught them how to kill. The head of the International Bar Association, Mark Ellis, cautioned that any such involvement by foreign nations would constitute a breach of international law. The United Kingdom and Israel denied participation in the Kenyan National Security Council's reported death squads, with the UK Foreign Office indicating that it had approached the Kenyan authorities over the charges.[16]

South Africa

Beginning in the 1960s, the African National Congress (ANC) and its ally, the South African Communist Party (SACP), and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), began a campaign to topple South Africa's National Party (NP)-controlled Apartheid Government. Both the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), and South African security forces routinely engaged in bombings and targeted killings, both at home and abroad. Particularly notorious apartheid death squads were the Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB) and the South African Police's counter-insurgency unit C10, commanded by Colonel Eugene de Kock and based at the Vlakplaas farm west of Pretoria, itself also a center for torture of prisoners.

After the end of Apartheid, death squad violence conducted by both the National Party and the ANC was investigated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


From 1971 to 1979, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin set up death squads to murder enemies of the state.

North America

Dominican Republic

Rafael Trujillo's Dominican government employed a death squad, known as la 42 and led by Miguel Angel Paulino, that tooled around in a stylish red Packard called the Carro de la Muerte (Death Car).[17] During the 12-year regime of Joaquín Balaguer, the Frente Democrático Anticomunista y Antiterrorista, most known as La Banda Colorá, continued the practices of la 42. He was also known for having the SIM to kill Haitians in the Parsley massacre.


Main article: Tonton Macoute

The Tonton Macoute was a paramilitary force created in 1959 by Haitian dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier that murdered 30,000 to 60,000 Haitians.


Cristero rebels publicly hanged on telegraph poles in Jalisco, Mexico. The bodies often remained on the poles until the pueblo or town renounced public religious practice.
Cristero rebels publicly hanged on telegraph poles in Jalisco, Mexico. The bodies often remained on the poles until the pueblo or town renounced public religious practice.

In a way similar to the American Indian Wars, the Centralist Republic of Mexico struggled against Apache raids. Between 1835 and 1837, only 15 years after the Mexican War of Independence and in the midst of the Texan Revolution, the Mexican state governments of Sonora and Chihuahua (that border with the U.S. states of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona ) put a bounty on the Apache bands that were in the area. In the case of Chihuahua the bounty attracted "bounty hunters" from the United States, that were often Anglo Americans, runaway slaves and even from other Indian tribes. It was paid based on Apache scalps, 100 pesos per warrior, 50 pesos per woman, and 25 pesos per child.[18] As historian Donald E. Worcester wrote: "The new policy attracted a diverse group of men, including Anglos, runaway slaves led by Seminole John Horse, and Indians — Kirker used Delawares and Shawnees; others, such as Terrazas, used Tarahumaras; and Seminole Chief Coacoochee led a band of his own people who had fled from Indian Territory.".[19]

During Benito Juarez's regime and his comeback as president, he used a death squad to kill Maximilian I of Mexico, Tomás Mejía, and Miguel Miramón for treason and reforms Maximilian made and for his support to French emperor Napoleon III. One of the soldiers on the death squad named Aureliano Blanquet would then later be sentenced to death by firing squad under Francisco I. Madero 45 years later in 1912. Francisco was then later executed a few months later in 1913.

After the Mexican Revolution

Main article: Cristero War

For more than seven decades following the Mexican Revolution, Mexico was a one-party state ruled by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). During this era, death squad tactics were routinely used against suspected enemies of the state.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the PRI's founder, President Plutarco Elías Calles, used death squads against Mexico's Roman Catholic majority in the Cristero War. Calles explained his reasons in a private telegram to the Mexican Ambassador to the French Third Republic, Alberto J. Pani. "...Catholic Church in Mexico is a political movement, and must be eliminated ... free of religious hypnotism which fools the people... within one year without the sacraments, the people will forget the faith..."[20]

Calles and his adherents used the Mexican Army and police, as well as paramilitary forces like the Red Shirts, to abduct, torture, and execute priests, nuns, and actively religious laity. Mexican Catholics were also routinely hanged from telegraph poles along the railroad lines. Prominent victims of the Mexican State's campaign against Catholicism include the teenager Jose Sanchez del Rio, the Jesuit priest Father Miguel Pro, and the Christian Pacifist Anacleto González Flores (see also Saints of the Cristero War).

In response, an armed revolt against the Mexican State, the Cristero War, began in 1927. Composed largely of peasant volunteers and commanded by retired General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, the Cristeros were also responsible for atrocities. Among them were the assassination of former Mexican President Álvaro Obregón, train robberies, and violent attacks against rural teachers. The uprising largely ended after the Holy See and the Mexican State negotiated a compromise agreement. Refusing to lay down his arms despite offers of amnesty, General Gorostieta was killed in action by the Mexican Army in Jalisco on 2 June 1929. Following the cessation of hostilities, more than 5,000 Cristeros were summarily executed by Mexican security forces. The events of the Cristero War are depicted in the 2012 film For Greater Glory.

During the Cold War

Main article: Mexican Dirty War

During the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, death squads continued to be used against anti-PRI activists, both Marxists and social conservatives. One example of this is the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, in which an anti-regime protest rally was attacked by security forces in Mexico City. After this event, paramilitary groups like "Los Halcones" (The Hawks) and the "Brigada blanca" (White brigade) were used to attack, hunt and exterminate political dissidents.

Allegations have been made by both journalists and American law enforcement of collusion between senior PRI statesmen and the Mexican drug cartels. It has even been alleged that, under PRI rule, no drug traffickers were ever successful without the permission of the Mexican State. If the same drug trafficker fell from favor, however, Mexican law enforcement would be ordered to move against their operation, as happened to Pablo Acosta Villarreal in 1987. Drug lords like Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, Rafael Caro Quintero, and Juan José Esparragoza Moreno would use the Dirección Federal de Seguridad as a death squad to kill Drug Enforcement Administration agents and Federal Judicial Police commanders who investigated or destroyed drug plantations in the 1970s and 1980s in Mexico. One example was the murder (after torture) of DEA agent Kiki Camarena, who was killed in Guadalajara for his part in the Rancho Bufalo raid. The DFS also organized death squads to kill journalists including Manuel Buendía who was killed by orders of DFS chief José-Antonio Zorrilla.

Regime change and "drug war tactics"

Main article: Mexican drug war

By the early 1990s, the PRI started to lose the grip on its absolute political power, however, its corruption became so pervasive that Juárez Cartel boss Amado Carrillo Fuentes was even able to purchase a window in Mexico's air defense system. During this period, his airplanes were permitted to smuggle narcotics into the United States without the interference of the Mexican Air Force. As a result, Carillo Fuentes became known as "The Lord of the Skies." During the 1990s drug cartels were on the rise in Mexico and groups like the Gulf Cartel would form death squads like Los Zetas to suppress, control, and uproot rival cartel factions.

The PRI also used death squad tactics against the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in the Chiapas conflict. In 1997, forty-five people were killed by a Mexican security forces in Chenalhó, Chiapas.[21][22]

In 2000, however, during an internal power struggle between former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and President Zedillo, the PRI was peacefully voted out from power in the 2000 Mexican general election, until 2013 when they partially regained their influence and power, only to lose again in the 2018 Mexican general election. It is also alleged that, during the time they first lost the presidency, some of the most powerful PRI members were supporting and protecting drug cartels that they used as death squads against their criminal and political rivals, with it being one of the real reasons the National Action Party government accepted to start the Mexican drug war against the Cartels.[23][24] However, it is also alleged that during this period of time the turmoil of war has been used by the parties in power to exterminate even more political dissidents, activists and their own rivals. An example of this is the case of the 2014 forced disappearance and assassination of 43 activist rural students from the Ayotzinapa Teachers' College, in the hands of police officers colluded with the "Guerreros Unidos" drug cartel. Six years later in 2020, it was confirmed that members from the Mexican Army base in town had worked with police and gang members to kidnap the students.[25][26][27] The Sinaloa Cartel has been known for having enforcer death squads like Gente Nueva, Los Ántrax, and enforcers forming their own death squads. From 2009 to 2012,the Jalisco New Generation Cartel under the name Los Matazetas did massacres in the states of Veracruz and Tamaulipas with their intention to remove the rival Los Zetas Cartel. One example was the Boca del Rio massacre in 2011, were 35 corpses were found under a bridge in trucks covered with paper bags. Gente Nueva was accused of collaborating with the organization.

United States

During the California Gold Rush, the state government between 1850 and 1859 financed and organized militia units to hunt down and kill Indigenous Californians. Between 1850 and 1852 the state appropriated almost one million dollars for the activities of these militias, and between 1854 and 1859 the state appropriated another $500,000, almost half of which was reimbursed by the federal government.[28] By one estimate, at least 4,500 Californian Indians were killed in the California genocide between 1849 and 1870.[29] Contemporary historian Benjamin Madley has documented the numbers of Californian Indians killed between 1846 and 1873; he estimates that during this period at least 9,492 Californian Indians were killed by non-Indians. Most of the deaths took place in what he defined as more than 370 massacres (defined as the "intentional killing of five or more disarmed combatants or largely unarmed noncombatants, including women, children, and prisoners, whether in the context of a battle or otherwise").[30] Some scholars contend that the state financing of these militias, as well as the US government's role in other massacres in California, such as the Bloody Island and Yontoket Massacres, in which up to 400 or more natives were killed in each massacre, constitutes acts of genocide against the native people of California.[31][32]

Quantrill's 1863 raid burned the town of Lawrence and killed 164 defenders.
Quantrill's 1863 raid burned the town of Lawrence and killed 164 defenders.

Beginning in the 1850s, pro-slavery Bushwhackers and anti-slavery Jayhawkers waged war against each other in the Kansas Territory. Due to the horrific atrocities committed by both sides against civilians, the territory was dubbed "Bleeding Kansas". After the American Civil War began, the fraternal bloodshed increased.

The most infamous atrocity which was committed in Kansas during the American Civil War was the Lawrence Massacre. A large force group of Partisan Rangers who were led by William Clarke Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson and affiliated with the Confederacy attacked and burned down the pro-Union town of Lawrence, Kansas in retaliation for the Jayhawkers' earlier destruction of Osceola, Missouri. The Bushwhackers shot down nearly 150 unarmed men and boys.

During the Reconstruction era, embittered Confederate veterans supported the Ku Klux Klan and similar vigilante organizations throughout the American South. The Klan and its counterparts terrorized and lynched African-Americans, northern carpetbaggers, and Southern "scalawags". This was often done with the unofficial support of the Democratic Party leadership. Historian Bruce B. Campbell has called the KKK, "one of the first proto-death squads". Campbell alleges that the difference between it and modern-day death-squads is the fact that the Ku Klux Klan was composed of members of a defeated regime rather than members of the ruling government. "Otherwise, in its murderous intent, its links to private elite interests, and its covert nature, it very closely resembles modern-day death squads."[33]

President Ulysses S Grant pushed the Ku Klux Klan Act through Congress in 1871 and called on the United States Army to help federal officials the arrest and break up of the Klan. 600 Klansmen were convicted and 65 men were sent to prison for as long as five years.[34][35]

Human Rights Watch asserted in a 2019 report that the Central Intelligence Agency was backing death squads in the War in Afghanistan.[36] The report alleges that the CIA-supported Afghan Armed Forces committed "summary executions and other grave abuses without accountability" over the course of more than a dozen night raids that took place between 2017 and 2019. The death squads allegedly committed "extrajudicial killings of civilians, forced disappearances of detainees, and attacks on healthcare facilities that treat insurgents," according to Vice's reporting on the contents of the Human Rights Watch report.[37] According to the same article, "The forces are recruited, equipped, trained, and deployed under the auspices of the CIA to target insurgents from the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and ISIS." The article also states these Afghan forces have the ability to call in United States Air Force airstrikes, which have resulted in the deaths of civilians, including children, and have occurred in civilian areas, including at weddings, parks, and schools.

In June 2020, Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Austreberto "Art" Gonzalez filed a claim against the county, claiming that approximately twenty percent of the deputies operating in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Compton station belonged to a secret death squad. Gonzales alleges that the group, named "The Executioners", carried out multiple extrajudicial killings over the years and that members followed initiation rituals, including being tattooed with skulls and Nazi imagery.[38][39][40]

Central America

El Salvador

Main article: Death squads in El Salvador

See also: 1980 murders of U.S. missionaries in El Salvador and Óscar Romero

A billboard serving as a reminder of one of many massacres that occurred during the civil war
A billboard serving as a reminder of one of many massacres that occurred during the civil war

During the Salvadoran civil war, death squads (known in Spanish by the name of Escuadrón de la Muerte, "Squadron of Death") achieved notoriety when a sniper assassinated Archbishop Óscar Romero while he was performing Mass in March 1980. In December 1980, three American nuns and a lay worker were gangraped and murdered by a military unit later found to have been acting on specific orders. Death squads were instrumental in killing thousands of peasants and activists. Funding for the squads came primarily from right-wing Salvadoran businessmen and landowners.[41] Because the death squads involved were found to have been soldiers of the Salvadoran Armed Forces, which were receiving U.S. arms, funding, training and advice during the Carter, Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, these events prompted some outrage in the U.S. Human rights activists criticized U.S. administrations for denying Salvadoran government links to the death squads. Veteran Human Rights Watch researcher Cynthia J. Arnson writes that "particularly during the years 1980–1983 when the killing was at its height (numbers of killings could reach as far as 35,000), assigning responsibility for the violence and human rights abuses was a product of the intense ideological polarization in the United States. The Reagan administration downplayed the scale of abuse as well as the involvement of state actors. Because of the level of denial, as well as the extent of U.S. involvement with the Salvadoran military and security forces, the U.S. role in El Salvador- what was known about death squads, when it was known, and what actions the United States did or did not take to curb their abuses- became an important part of El Salvador's death squad story."[42] Some death squads, such as Sombra Negra, are still operating in El Salvador.[43]

The Salvadoran Army's U.S.-trained Atlácatl Battalion was responsible for the El Mozote massacre where more than 800 civilians were murdered, over half of them children, the El Calabozo massacre, and the murders of six Jesuits in 1989.[44]


Honduras had death squads active through the 1980s, the most notorious of which was Battalion 3–16. Hundreds of people, teachers, politicians, and union bosses were assassinated by government-backed forces. Battalion 316 received substantial support and training from the United States Central Intelligence Agency.[45] At least 19 members were School of the Americas graduates.[46][47] Seven members, including Billy Joya, later played important roles in the administration of President Manuel Zelaya as of mid-2006.[48] Following the 2009 coup d'état, former Battalion 3–16 member Nelson Willy Mejía Mejía became Director-General of Immigration[49][50] and Billy Joya was de facto President Roberto Micheletti's security advisor.[51] Another former Battalion 3–16 member, Napoleón Nassar Herrera,[48][52] was high Commissioner of Police for the north-west region under Zelaya and under Micheletti, and also became a Secretary of Security spokesperson "for dialogue" under Micheletti.[53][54] Zelaya claimed that Joya had reactivated the death squad, with dozens of government opponents having been murdered since the ascent of the Michiletti and Lobo governments.[51]


Throughout the Guatemalan Civil War, both military and "civilian" governments utilized death squads as a counterinsurgency strategy. The use of "death squads" as a government tactic became particularly widespread after 1966. Throughout 1966 and the first three months of 1967, within the framework of what military commentators referred to as "el-contra terror", government forces killed an estimated 8,000 civilians accused of "subversive" activity.[55] This marked a turning point in the history of the Guatemalan security apparatus, and brought about a new era in which mass murder of both real and suspected subversives by government "death squads" became a common occurrence in the country. A noted Guatemalan sociologist estimated the number of government killings between 1966 and 1974 at approximately 5,250 a year (for a total death toll of approximately 42,000 during the presidencies of Julio César Méndez Montenegro and Carlos Arana Osorio).[56] Killings by both official and unofficial security forces would climax in the late 1970s and early 1980s under the presidencies of Fernando Romeo Lucas García and Efraín Ríos Montt, with over 18,000 documented killings in 1982 alone.[57]

Greg Grandin claims that "Washington, of course, publicly denied its support for paramilitarism, but the practice of political disappearances took a great leap forward in Guatemala in 1966 with the birth of a death squad created, and directly supervised, by U.S. security advisors."[58] An upsurge in rebel activity in Guatemala convinced the US to provide increased counterinsurgency assistance to Guatemala's security apparatus in the mid to late 1960s. Documents released in 1999 details how United States military and police advisers had encouraged and assisted Guatemalan military officials in the use of repressive techniques, including helping establish a "safe house" from within the presidential palace as a location to coordinate counter insurgency activities.[59] In 1981, it was reported by Amnesty International that this same "safe house" was in use by Guatemalan security officials to coordinate counterinsurgency activities involving the use of the "death squads."[60]

According to a victim's brother, Mirtala Linares "He wouldn't tell us anything; he claimed they hadn't captured [Sergio], that he knew nothing of his whereabouts – and that maybe my brother had gone as an illegal alien to the United States! That was how he answered us."[61]


Throughout the Ortega government, starting in 2006, but escalating with the 2018–2020 Nicaraguan protests, Sandinista National Liberation Front government has employed death squads also known as "Turbas" or militia groups armed and aided by the National Police to attack pro-democracy protesters. The government's crackdown of lethal force was condemned by the international community, the Organization of American States, Human Rights Watch, and the local and international Catholic Church.[62][63][64]

South America


Main article: Argentine Dirty War

Amnesty International reports that "the security forces in Argentina first started using "death squads" in late 1973. One example was Alianza Anticomunista Argentina, a far-right death squad mainly active during the "Dirty War". By the time military rule ended in 1983 some 1,500 people had been killed directly by "death squads", and over 9,000 named people and many more undocumented victims had been "disappeared"—kidnapped and murdered secretly—according to the officially appointed National Commission on Disappeared People (CONADEP).[65]


The Esquadrão da Morte ("Death Squad" in Portuguese) was a paramilitary organization that emerged in the late 1960s in the context of the Brazilian Military Dictatorship. It was the first group to have received the name "Death Squad" in Latin America, but its actions resembled traditional vigilantism as most executions were not exclusively politically related. The greater share of the political executions during the 21 years of Military Dictatorship (1964–1985) were carried out by the Brazilian Armed Forces itself. The purpose of the original "Death Squad" was, with the consent of the military government, to persecute, torture and kill suspected criminals (marginais) regarded as dangerous to society. It began in the former State of Guanabara led by Detective Mariel Mariscot, one of the "Twelve Golden Men of Rio de Janeiro's Police", and from there it spread throughout Brazil in the 1970s. In general, its members were politicians, members of the judiciary, and police officials. As a rule, these groups were financed by members of the business community.[66]

In the 1970s and 1980s, several other organizations were modeled after the 1960s Esquadrão da Morte. The most famous such organization is Scuderie Detetive Le Cocq (English: Shield of Detective Le Cocq), named after deceased Detective Milton Le Cocq. The group was particularly active in the Brazilian Southeastern States of Guanabara and Rio de Janeiro, and remains active in the state of Espírito Santo. In the State of São Paulo, Death Squads and individual gunmen called justiceiros were pervasive and executions almost were exclusively the work of off-duty policemen. In 1983, a police officer nicknamed "Cabo Bruno" was convicted of murdering more than 50 victims.[67]

The "Death Squads" active under the rule of the military dictatorship continue as a cultural legacy of the Brazilian police. In the 2000s, police officers remain linked with death squad-type executions. In 2003, roughly 2,000 extrajudicial murders occurred in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, with Amnesty International claiming the numbers are likely far higher.[68][69] Brazilian politician Flávio Bolsonaro, the son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, was accused of having ties to death squads.[70][71]


Further information: Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional, Chile under Pinochet, Operation Condor, and Caravan of Death

One of the most notorious murder gangs operated by the Chilean Army was the Caravan of Death, whose members travelled by helicopter throughout Chile between 30 September and 22 October 1973. During this foray, members of the squad ordered or personally carried out the execution of at least 75 individuals held in Army custody in these garrisons.[72] According to the NGO Memoria y Justicia, the squad killed 26 in the South and 71 in the North, making a total of 97 victims.[73] Augusto Pinochet was indicted in December 2002 in this case, but he died four years later without having been convicted. The trial, however, is on-going as of September 2007, other militaries and a former military chaplain having been indicted in this case. On 28 November 2006, Víctor Montiglio, charged of this case, ordered Pinochet's house arrest[74] According to the Chilean Government's own Truth and Reconciliation (Rettig) report, 2,279 people were killed in the operations of Pinochet's regime.[75] In June 1999, judge Juan Guzmán Tapia ordered the arrest of five retired generals.


See also: Right-wing paramilitarism in Colombia, Plan Colombia, Muerte a Secuestradores, and Colombian parapolitics scandal

The United States supported death squads in Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala during the 1980s.[76] In 1993, Amnesty International reported that clandestine military units began covertly operating as death squads in 1978. According to the report, throughout the 1980s political killings rose to a peak of 3,500 in 1988, averaging some 1,500 victims per year since then, and "over 1,500 civilians are also believed to have "disappeared" since 1978."[77] The AUC, formed in 1997, was the most prominent paramilitary group.

According to a 2014 report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Buenaventura, a port town in Colombia, "entire neighborhoods were dominated by powerful paramilitary successor groups" HRW reports that the groups "restrict residents' movements, recruit their children, extort businesses, and routinely engage in horrific acts of violence against anyone who defies their will." It is reported that scores of people have been "disappeared" from the town over the years. Bodies are dismembered before they are disposed of and residents have reported the existence of casas de pique, "chop-up houses" where people are slaughtered. Many residents have fled and are considered to have been "forcibly displaced": 22,028 residents fled in 2011, 15,191 in 2012, and 13,468 between January and October 2013.[76]

In Colombia, the terms "death squads", "paramilitaries" or "self-defense groups" have been used interchangeably and otherwise, referring to either a single phenomenon, also known as paramilitarism, or to different but related aspects of the same.[78] There are reports that Los Pepes, the death squad led by brothers Fidel and Carlos Castaño, had ties to some members of the Colombian National Police, especially the Search Bloc (Bloque de Búsqueda) unit.[79]

A report from the country's public prosecutors office at the end of 2009 reported the number of 28,000 disappeared by paramilitary and guerrilla groups. As of 2008 only 300 corpses were identified and 600 in 2009. According to the prosecutor's office, it will take many more years before all the bodies recovered can be identified.[citation needed]

At least 40% of the national legislature are said to have ties to paramilitary groups.[76] In August 2018, prosecutors in Colombia charged 13 Chiquita brands with supporting the right wing death squad that killed hundreds in the Urabá Antioquia region between 1996 and 2004.[80][81] Salvatore Mancuso, a jailed paramilitary leader, has accused Del Monte, Dole and Chiquita of funding right wing death squads. Chiquita was fined $25 million after admitting they had paid $1.7 million to paramilitaries over six years; the reason for the payments remains a matter of dispute, with Chiquita claiming the money was routine extortion money paid to paramilitary groups to protect workers. Activists, on the other hand, insist that a portion of the money paid by Chiquita was used to finance political assassinations.[82]


Further information: Grupo Colina and Rodrigo Franco Command

Peruvian government death squads carried out massacres against radicals and civilians in their fight against Shining Path and Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.[83][84][85]


Main articles: Extrajudicial killings in Venezuela and Colectivo (Venezuela)

In its 2002 and 2003 world reports, Human Rights Watch reported the existence of death squads in several Venezuelan states, involving members of the local police, the DISIP and the National Guard. These groups were responsible for the extrajudicial killings of civilians and wanted or alleged criminals, including street criminals, looters and drug users.[86][87]

In 2019, amid the Crisis in Bolivarian Venezuela, the government of Nicolás Maduro was accused by a UN human rights report of using death squads to conduct thousands of extrajudicial executions. The report relayed a multitude of eyewitness accounts, describing the government's Special Action Forces (FAES) frequently arriving at homes in unmarked vehicles, executing male suspects on the spot, then planting drugs or weapons on the corpse to make it appear the victim died resisting arrest. According to the report, the executions were part of a campaign aimed at "neutralizing, repressing and criminalizing political opponents and people critical of the government".[88] The Maduro government condemned the report as "openly biased".[89]



Main article: Rapid Action Battalion

In contemporary times, the Bangladeshi "Rapid Action Battalion" has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings.[90] In addition, there have been many reports of torture in connection with the battalion's activities.[91][92] Several battalion members have been accused of murder and obstruction of justice during the Narayanganj Seven murder.[93][94] They've been known to kill civilian suspects for the explicit purpose of avoiding trials.[95] They have also been accused of carrying out a campaign of forced disappearances.[96]


Main article: Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge began employing death squads to purge Cambodia of non-communists after taking over the country in 1975. They rounded up their victims, questioned them and then took them out to killing fields.[97]


Main article: Secret killings of Assam

The secret killings of Assam (1998–2001) was probably the darkest chapter in Assam's political history when relatives, friends, sympathisers of United Liberation Front of Asom insurgents were systematically killed by unknown assailants. These extrajudicial murders happened in Assam between 1998 and 2001. These extrajudicial killings were conducted by the Government of Assam using SULFA members and the security forces in the name of counter-insurgency operations. The victims of these killings were relatives, friends and colleagues of ULFA militants. The most apparent justification for the whole exercise was that it was a tit-for-tat response to the ULFA-sponsored terrorism, specially the killings of their old comrades—the SULFAs.[98][99][100][101][102]


Main articles: Indonesian mass killings of 1965–1966 and Petrus killings

During the transition to the New Order in 1965–1966, with the backing of the United States government and its Western allies, the Indonesian National Armed Forces and right-wing paramilitary death squads massacred hundreds of thousands of leftists and those believed tied to the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) after a failed coup attempt which was blamed on the Communists.[103][104][105][106] At least 400,000 to 500,000 people, perhaps as many as 3 million, were killed over a period of several months, with thousands more being interred in prisons and concentration camps under extremely inhumane conditions.[107] The violence culminated in the fall of the "guided democracy" regime under President Sukarno and the commencement of Suharto's thirty-year authoritarian reign.[108][109]


Main article: Extrajudicial killings in Iran

Further information: Chain Murders of Iran

Under the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1941–1979) the SAVAK (Security and Intelligence Service) was founded. During the 1960s and 70s, it was accused of using death squads.[citation needed] After the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah, Amnesty International continued to complain of human rights abuses in Iran.[110] Suspected foes of the Ayatollah Khomeini, were imprisoned, tortured, tried by kangaroo courts, and executed. The most famous victim of the era's death squad violence remains Amir-Abbas Hoveida, a Prime Minister of Iran under the Shah. However, the same treatment was also meted out to senior officers in the Iranian military. Other cases exist of Iranian dissidents opposed to the Islamic Republic who have been tracked down and murdered abroad. One of the most notorious examples of this remains the 1992 Mykonos restaurant assassinations in Berlin, Germany.

The Iranian government's victims include civilians who have been killed by "death squads" that operate under the control of government agents but these killing operations have been denied by the Iranian government. This was particularly the case during the 1990s when more than 80 writers, translators, poets, political activists, and ordinary citizens who had been critical of the government in some way, disappeared or were found murdered.[111] In 1983 the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) gave one of the leaders of Iran Khomeini information on Communist KGB agents in Iran. This information was almost certainly used. Later, The Iranian regime occasionally used death squads throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. However, by the 2000s, it seems to have almost if not entirely ceased its operations. This partial Westernization of the country can be seen as paralleling similar events in Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, and Northern Iraq beginning in the late 1990s.


Main articles: Extrajudicial killings in Iraq and Iraqi conflict (2003–present)

Iraq was formed by the British Empire from three provinces of the Ottoman Empire following the empire's breakup after World War I. Its population is overwhelmingly Muslim but is divided into Shiites and Sunnis, with a Kurdish minority in the north. The new state leadership in the capital of Baghdad was formerly composed of, for the most part, the old Sunni Arab elite.

After Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the secular socialist Baathist leadership were replaced with a provisional and later constitutional government that included leadership roles for the Shia and Kurds. This paralleled the development of ethnic militias by the Shia, Sunni, and the Kurdish Peshmerga.

During the course of the Iraq War the country has increasingly become divided into three zones: a Kurdish ethnic zone to the north, a Sunni center and the Shia ethnic zone to the south.

While all three groups have operated death squads,[112] in the national capital of Baghdad some members of the now Shia Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army formed unofficial, unsanctioned, but long tolerated death squads.[113] They possibly have links to the Interior Ministry and are popularly known as the 'black crows'. These groups operated either by night or by day. They usually arrested people, then either tortured[114] or killed them.[citation needed]

The victims of these attacks were predominantly young males who had probably been suspected of being members of the Sunni insurgency. Agitators such as Abdul Razaq al-Na'as, Dr. Abdullateef al-Mayah, and Dr. Wissam Al-Hashimi have also been killed. Women and children have also been arrested or killed.[115] Some of these killings have also been simple robberies or other criminal activities.

A feature in a May 2005 issue of the magazine of The New York Times accused the U.S. military of modelling the "Wolf Brigade", the Iraqi interior ministry police commandos, on the death squads that were used in the 1980s to crush the Marxist insurgency in El Salvador.[116]

In 2004, the US dispatched James Steele as an envoy and special training adviser to the Iraqi Special Police Commandos who were later accused of torture and death squad activities. Steele had served in El Salvador in the 1980s, where he helped train government units involved in human rights violations death squads in their war against the FMLNF.[117]


Death squads were active during the Lebanese Civil War from 1975 to 1990. The number of people who disappeared during the conflict is put around 17,000. Groups like Hezbollah have used death squads and elite wings to terrorize opponents and ISIS members.[118][119]


President Rodrigo Duterte
President Rodrigo Duterte

Main article: Extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances in the Philippines

There are certain vigilante death squads that are active in the Philippines, especially in Davao City where local death squads roam around the city to hunt criminals.

After winning the Presidency in June 2016, Rodrigo Duterte had urged, "If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful."[120] By March 2017, the death toll for the Philippine Drug War passed 8,000 people.[121]

Saudi Arabia

See also: Killing of Jamal Khashoggi and Tiger Squad

South Korea

Main article: Extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances in South Korea

News reports on the use of death squads in Korea originated around the middle of the 20th century such as the Jeju Massacre[122] and Daejeon.[123] There were also the multiple deaths that made the news in 1980 in Gwangju.[124]


During the Cold War, in the short period of democracy in Thailand after the 1973 Thai popular uprising (1973–1976), three right-wing paramilitary groups, Nawaphon, Red Gaurs, and Village Scouts were founded and supported by Internal Security Operations Command and Border Patrol Police to promote national unity, loyalty to Thai royal family, and anti-communism. They were also heavily funded and backed by the United States government, and were under the patronage of the royal family themselves. Among their ranks were former soldiers, veterans of the Vietnam War, former mercenaries in Laos, and violent vocational students.

These groups were first employed to counter protests of the pro-democracy and left-wing students movement, attacking them with firearms and grenades. When the ideological conflict escalated, they started assassinating labor and peasants union officials and progressive politicians, the most famous was Dr. Boonsanong Punyodyana, the general secretary of the Socialist Party of Thailand. The conflict reached its peak with the Thammasat University massacre in 1976, which the Royal Thai Armed Forces and Royal Thai Police, supported by the three aforementioned paramilitary groups, stormed Thammasat University and shot mostly unarmed student protesters indiscriminately, resulting in at least 46 deaths. A military coup was staged later in the same day. During the military rule, the paramilitary groups' popularity diminished.

In contemporary Thailand, many extrajudicial killings occurred during the 2003 anti-drug effort of Thailand's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra were attributed to government-sponsored death squads. Rumors still persist that there is collusion between the government, rogue military officers and radical right wing/anti-drugs death squads, Thailand: "The Corrupt Media Mogul v. The Crusading Journalist" Commit Death Squad links. Drug war and more. Worldwide. Mostly U.S.-run or U.S.-aided terrorism. Millions killed over decades. Torture on an industrial scale. "Dirty wars," murder, corruption, destabilization, disinformation, subversion of democracy, etc.. Above Thailand's anti-drug death squads | Cannabis Culture Magazine Marihemp Network Gallery :: Thailand. 2500 extrajudicial drug-war killings of innocent people. Thailand War on Drugs Turns Murderous, 600 Killed This Month -- Human Rights Groups Denounce Death Squads, Executions Southeast Asia: Probe into Thai Drug War Killings Getting Underway | with both Muslim[125] and Buddhist[citation needed] sectarian death squads still operating in the South of the country.


Main articles: List of massacres in Turkey, Political violence in Turkey (1976–80), and Extrajudicial executions in Turkey

The Grey Wolves was established by Colonel Alparslan Türkeş in the 1960s, it was the main Turkish nationalist force during the political violence in 1976–80 in Turkey. During this period, the organization became a "death squad"[126] engaged in "street killings and gunbattles".[127] According to authorities, 220 of its members carried out 694[126][128] murders of left-wing and liberal activists and intellectuals.[129] Attacks on university students were commonplace. They killed hundreds of Alevis in the Maraş massacre of 1978[130][131] and are alleged to have been behind the Taksim Square massacre of 1977.[132][133] The masterminds behind the attempt on Pope John Paul II's life in 1981 by Grey Wolves member Mehmet Ali Ağca were not identified and the organization's role remains unclear.[A]

Ottoman Empire

During the Armenian genocide, the Special Organization functioned as a death squad.[135]


Australia has a long history of the use of death squads dating back to the earliest days of European colonisation.

In the Colony of New South Wales on December 1790, Governor Arthur Phillip ordered that "A party, consisting of two captains, two subalterns, and forty privates, with a proper number of non-commissioned officers from the garrison, with three days provisions, etc. are to be ready to march to-morrow morning at day-light, in order to bring in six of those natives who reside near the head of Botany Bay; or, if that should be found impracticable, to put that number to death." and "That we were to cut off and bring in the heads of the slain; for which purpose hatchets and bags would be furnished." Originally Phillip had settled on a dozen as an appropriate number. General Watkin Tench wrote that "we were, if practicable, to bring away two natives as prisoners; and to put to death ten." Phillip's purpose for this mission, as described by Tench, was "to strike a decisive blow, in order, at once to convince them of our superiority and to infuse an universal terror..."[136]

In May 1795, Governor Peterson ordered a "party of corps to be sent from Parramatta, with instructions to destroy as many as they could meet with of the wood tribe ('Be-dia-gal'); and, in hope of striking terror, to erect gibbets in different places, whereupon the bodies of all they might kill were to be hung." Seven or eight Indigenous people were thought to have been killed, although no bodies were hung on gibbets, and several captives were taken including "one man, (apparently a cripple) five women and some children." One woman and her baby had both been shot though not killed. The child subsequently died. Another pregnant woman delivered her baby son who also died.[137] Gapps writes "The fact that women and children were shot and captured certainly suggests the action was an indiscriminate surprise assault on a campsite at night, with all the hallmarks of a massacre."[138]

In December 1795, Collins recorded that another 'armed party' was sent out. "They promptly killed four men and one woman, badly wounded a child, and took four men prisoners."[137] Gapps writes "Once more, the shooting of women and children suggests a surprise attack on a camp, ending in a massacre."[138]

In early 1796, Governor John Hunter gave settlers in the outlying Hawkesbury settlement militia status. At this point the Hawkesbury was effectively beyond the reach of the New South Wales Corps who had limited manpower. Hunter was at pains to state that settlers were "not to wantonly fire at, or take the lives of natives, as such act would be considered a deliberate murder." Settlers who withdrew or kept back their assistance to the militia were to be "proceeded against as persons disobeying the rules and orders of the settlement."[138]

In 1799, Lieutenant Thomas Hobby of the New South Wales Corps led a party of soldiers and settler against Aboriginal Australians in the Hawkesbury area on the understanding that his orders were to destroy Aboriginal people "wherever they were met with", with the exception of "native children who were domesticated among the settlers." Non 'domesticated' Aboriginal children were fair game.[138]

In May 1801, Governor King went further issuing 'shoot on sight' orders. declaring that anyone in three districts around Sydney could fire at any "bodies of natives".[138]

In the Colony of Tasmania death squads took a number of forms. Private individuals, convicts and settlers formed vigilante squads. In 1827, Near Hadspen on the property of Thomas Beams, Aboriginal Tasmanians surrounded his hut. In response to his firing at the Aboriginal people Beams' neighbours arrived on foot and horseback. A "war party" was organised and a search conducted. At 10 o'clock at night the glow of a fire was seen and the war party surrounded the Aboriginal encampment. At 3 am fourteen muskets opened fire, the camp was rushed and eleven Aboriginal people were killed. Only one escaped.[139]

'Roving parties' were authorised by Governor Arthur. These parties were either military patrols made up of soldiers and convict police or civilian parties made up of convicts and led by men who provided their services in return for promises of grants of land. While they were mostly ineffective, or indeed counterproductive, they did kill Aboriginal people. In one such instance in 1829, a roving party led by John Batman, using Aboriginal trackers brought from the Sydney colony, came across a large Aboriginal camp of men, women and children at night. Their approach was disturbed by the camp dogs whereupon they opened fire and rushed the camp. They captured a woman and a child but the rest fled into the darkness. The next morning Batman's party found two badly wounded men and many blood trails. The wounded men informed them that ten others had been seriously wounded and were dead or dying and that two women had also been severely wounded and had crawled away. The wounded Aboriginal men were subsequently executed by Batman.[139]

Military units carried out attacks upon sleeping Aboriginal groups. On 6 December 1828 elements of the 40th Regiment together with two constables, Danvers and Holmes, surrounded a group of Aboriginal people during the night at Tooms Lake. In a dawn attack they killed a number of Aboriginal people variously described as 'several' or ten or sixteen. The bodies were then placed in a pile and burned.[139]

In the northwest of Tasmania a private corporation, the Van Diemen's Land Company, modelled on the East India Company, what Adam Smith described as a "government of an exclusive company of merchants,... perhaps, the worst of all governments for any country whatever." became a law unto itself. The company's Chief Agent, Edward Curr, was also appointed the government magistrate, making him the sole arbiter of law for 200 kilometers in any direction. Curr described his belief that "a war of extermination" was underway,[140] and later wrote that "My whole object was to kill them, and this because my full conviction was and is that the laws of nature and God and this country all conspired to render this my duty..."[140]

In 1828, Curr sent four shepherds along with the captain of the cutter Fanny and its crew to carry out a massacre in response to the spearing of some sheep. A resident of Curr's homestead, Rosalie Hare, described in her journal "...while we remained at Circular Head there were several accounts of considerable amounts of Natives having been shot by them (the Company's men), they wishing to extirpate them entirely, if possible. The master of the Company's cutter Fanny, assisted by four shepherds and his crew, surprised a party and killed 12".[141] This was quickly followed by the Cape Grim Massacre where Aboriginal people collecting shellfish on the beach at the base of a cliff were shot from the high ground by the company's servants. The company also employed booby traps such as spring loaded guns and steel jawed man traps, sometimes hidden in barrels of flour.[139]

The culmination of these death squads was 'the Black Line', a 300 kilometre wide sweep which employed more than 2000 men over almost a two-month period from the 7th of October 1830 to the 26th of November. The strategy was designed as a battue to drive the remaining Aboriginal inhabitants into a cordon where they could be captured or killed. While Governor Arthur maintained that capture was the goal, those who participated and the press had no doubt that the only realistic recourse was to kill the remaining Aboriginal people. The former Attorney General wrote publicly that they were "about to enter upon a war of extermination, for such I apprehend is the intended object of the present operations."[142] The serving Solicitor General concurred writing "If you cannot capture them...I say boldly and broadly, exterminate."[143]

While the Black Line was an abject failure, manned by unmotivated conscript troops and convicts, hamstrung by incompetence, lack of supplies, bad weather and poor intelligence, ultimately, it failed because there simply was no enemy to kill. A year later, when George Augustus Robinson negotiated the final surrender of the eastern tribes and led them into Hobart Town all that remained was 19 men, nine women and one child. Within a few years they too would mostly be dead, killed by white man's diseases on their Flinders Island internment camp.[139] The more than dozen tribes of the north west suffered a similar fate, having been virtually wiped out by the Van Diemen's Land Company by 1834, and of those tribes in the north east, by 1830 there were only 74 human beings left alive. Robinson wrote that "at every boat harbour along the whole line of the coast the bones of the murdered aborigines are strewed over the face of the earth and bleaching in the sun..."[144] By 1835 the Aboriginal Peoples of Tasmania were virtually extinct. The extirpation of each tribe a completed genocide. Today, those Tasmanians who are of Aboriginal ancestry are almost exclusively the descendants of Aboriginal women and girls taken as slaves by sealers in Bass Strait.[139]

As the frontier in New South Wales continued to expand the Crown sought to limit the unregulated spread of settlement. In 1929, the area of land that could be legally settled was expanded to nineteen counties stretching from the Bateman's Bay in the south to Taree in the north to Bathurst and Wellington in the west. Squatters simply ran their stock well beyond the settled counties. In 1836 Governor Richard Bourke legalised this illegal fait acknowledging squatter's rights to occupation if they paid ten pounds in annual rent. Skinner remarks that “The resulting Act (7 Wm. IV. No. 4) to restrain the unauthorized occupation of Crown Lands was equally a law to recognize and encourage legitimate grazing." Bourke mused that failing to take this land would be "a perverse rejection of the Bounty of Providence."[145] This Bounty of Providence was, of course, Aboriginal land, and taking it necessitated violence.

Conflict came in the form of arbitrary killings, ad hoc death squads and the establishment of the Mounted Police and later the Native Police. At separation in 1859 the Native Police would become the Queensland Native Mounted Police, which would field death squads across the entire state for to following half century.[146][147]

The Mounted Police were thought to have killed around 100 Aboriginal people in 1836 and another 65 in 1838. Richards writes that "...the Mounted Police exerted the Crown's monopoly over armed force on the frontier while maintaining the appearance of law. In other words, while described as a police force upholding the rule of law, the force actually resembled an army unit actively engaged with an enemy."[147]

On 26 January 1838, on the newly expanded frontier, the New South Wales Mounted Police under Major James Nunn perpetrated a massacre of Aboriginal people south west of Moree at Waterloo Creek. This was the culmination of a two month long campaign to suppress Aboriginal resistance. At least fifty Aboriginal people were murdered.[148] At the time the government funded missionary Lancelot Threlkeld published a report naming Nunn as a mass murdered responsible for the deaths of 200-300 Aboriginal people on the Gwydir and its tributaries.[149]

This was followed on 10 June 1838 by the Myall Creek Massacre east of Moree, perpetrated by an ad hoc death squad composed of squatters and their stockmen. At least 28 Aboriginal people, women, children and the elderly, were shot, beheaded and dismembered before their bodies were burnt on a fire. The death squad then proceeded to another property near Inverell perpetrating a second massacre before returning to Myall Creek.

The Myall Creek Massacre became the only instance where white colonists were held accountable for mass murder. There were two trials. In the first an all white jury found them not guilty. Subsequently, seven of the original eleven defendants were re-tried on the charge of killing a child, found guilty and executed.[145]

The Myall Creek Massacre trial was only made possible because the perpetrators had made a public resolution "to exterminate the whole race of blacks in that quarter" and some of their fellow settlers disagreed with the sentiment and informed the authorities.[145]

In 1839, Governor George Gipps, in an attempt to rein in atrocities being committed in the colony, issued a strongly worded public proclamation pointing out the illegality of waging war against Aboriginal Peoples "As human beings partaking of our common nature -as the Aboriginal possessors of the soil from which the wealth of the country has been principally derived - and as subjects of the Queen, whose authority extends over every part of New Holland - the natives of the Colony have an equal right with the people of European origin to the protection and 'assistance of the law of England." · "To allow either to injure or oppress the other, or to permit the stronger to regard the weaker party as aliens with whom a war can exist, and against whom they may exercise belligerent rights, is not less inconsistent with the spirit of that Law, than it is at variance with the dictates of justice and humanity."[145]

In response to the massacres and general lawlessness of the frontier Governor Gipps also introduced the Border Police Act "An Act further to restrain the unauthorised occupation of Crown Lands, and to provide the means of defraying the expense of the Border Police" and in 1841 a subsequent Act extended the force for another 5 years. While the Border Police, made up primarily of military convicts, proved relatively inconsequential for dealing with frontier violence, it laid the foundation for the establishment of the permanent Native Police in 1848.[145]

In 1847/48, James Marks, a squatter whose son had been killed by Aboriginal people, possibly in response to Marks' "ruthless shooting of Aborigines" and the murder of an Aboriginal boy working for a neighbouring squatter, recruited white settlers to form a death squad.[150] They were joined by two Constables, McGee and Hancock, on the orders of the Warialda Bench of Magistrates. Their killing spree centered on 'station blacks', Aboriginal people working for local squatters and the victims were almost exclusively women. The total number of victims is unknown but at least 47 were recorded to have been murdered.[151]

Commissioner John Bligh wrote to the Colonial Secretary on 16 September 1848 stating that death squads were still carrying out murders. He wrote of theses fresh murders "It would seem that seven persons were concerned in these murders and the audacity of these people may be imagined from the circumstances of these attacks having taken place almost immediately on my leaving the Macintyre where I had been engaged for a fortnight in investigating the former murders at Mr Jonathan Young's and almost at the moment after my seizing one of the person's concerned in that business and issuing warrants for the arrest of the remainder.... These atrocious outrages appear to me to have been instigated partly by wanton brutality and desire of excitement and partly by a feeling of animosity against the Natives and those who employ them arising from the idea that the rate of wages is lowered by their unpaid services...(slavery)...From the statements of the Natives and the evidence now before me I cannot entertain a doubt of the guilt of the persons now in custody though I feel convinced that they will be regarded as martyrs by their fellows and that every effort will be used to protect them by false evidence from the consequences of their crime."[152]

Despite a warrant being issued for Marks he was never arrested nor were any of the murderers successfully prosecuted. Frederick Walker wrote the Native Mounted Police was established because of Marks "an individual whose atrocities on the Macintyre first induced His Excellence to command me to raise the Native Police."[150]

On 17 August 1848, Frederick 'Filibuster' Walker was duly appointed the first Commandant of the Native Police on the recommendation of William Charles Wentworth and Augustus Morris of the New South Wales Legislative Council.[145] Walker had been the manager of Morris' property, where he had proven himself by violently putting down Aboriginal people,[147] and both had worked for Wentworth on the Murrumbidgee. It was on Morris' property, Callandoon, that Walker would initially establish the Mounted Police headquarters.[153]

Copeland says that "his 'Callandoon Experiment' was a success for the squatters and a disaster for the local Bigambul people." By the time his 'experiment' was over only 100 Bigambul were left alive.[150]

Walker's and the NMP's first engagement with Aboriginal people was on the Macintyre River. William Butler Tooth- who later was accused of slavery, "running an enforced black labour camp which compromised a number of inoffensive Manumbar natives" on his Widgee Widgee run-[154] testified before the 1858 Select Committee "The blacks were so completely put down on that occasion and terrified at the power of the Police." Walker followed this up on the Severn River where he ambushed Aboriginal people and pursued them into thick scrub. A witness stated that "the number that they killed no one but their Commandant and themselves ever know." In June on the Condamine two further 'clashes' occurred. An unknown number of Aboriginal people were killed in the first engagement. Walker wrote that "they suffered so severely that they returned to their own country, a distance of eighty miles."[145]

Near Carbucky on 1 July 1849, Walker and his troopers, together with squatters, surrounded and attacked local Aboriginal people. Walker wrote to the Colonial Secretary "I much regretted not having one hour more [of] daylight and I would have annihilated the lot,…"[155] In this one engagement 100 Bigambul were killed.[156]

Even at these early stages Walker's and the NMP's aggressive tactics provoked the Colonial Secretary to caution Walker "not to commit acts of aggressive warfare against the Aborigines and pointing out that the command of the Native Police Force had been entrusted to him for the maintenance of peace and not for the purpose of carrying war into the Aborigine's country.".[145]

Walker, on a number of occasions, sought clarification of the legality of what he had been tasked to do.[145] No such clarification was ever forthcoming. In 1839 Governor Gipps had insisted that all Aboriginal deaths resulting from clashes with Europeans must be subject to an inquiry.[145] In 1850, the Colonial Secretary reiterated that Aboriginal deaths should be investigated, but now, by the officers commanding, the same officers who participated in the attacks. Attorney General Plunket refused to offer an opinion. Essentially, what happened in the field was to stay in the field.[145]

When questioned by the Colonial Secretary about Marshall's shooting of Aboriginal people Walker responded that Marshall had only fired on them seven times in nine months and that these shooting had not been against one tribe in one area but against six different tribes, from 50 to 200 miles apart.[145] These shootings may have been on a relatively small scale compared to other massacres but the numbers still add up to significant deaths and widespread terror. March 1850 on the Lower Condamine, 'killed a number'; July 1850, an Aboriginal man chased and killed; 8 August on the Severn, an Aboriginal man killed; April 1851, Marshall shot two men in the Mary River; Walker's patrol killed another near the Grafton Range; September 1851, two or three were killed; November, one shot; 2 October 1851, two shot, 7 October, two shot.[145] These ones, twos and 'several' soon became dozens then hundreds then thousands.

By 1850/51, three troops of Native Mounted Police were in the Wide Bay area carrying out attacks on Aboriginal people at Widgee and Kilkivan with the participation of local squatters, Corfield, McTaggart and John Murray, who, in 1852, would become the fourth officer of the NMP, a career that would last 19 years and see Murray slaughter Aboriginal people across the state. Murray subsequently described the shooting in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald. He wrote that on 14 December, he participated in attacks led by Marshall and his troopers upon the Aboriginal owners of Widgee and Kilkivan. At the conclusion of the attacks, one lasting more than an hour, Murray stated that "the blacks suffered severely" and that they had been "taught a lesson which will show them their inferiority in war". The number of Aboriginal people killed is unknown.[157]

Despite the Colonial Secretary's official remonstration against waging warfare, Christmas Eve 1851 saw the NMP field three troops under Walker, Marshall and Sgt Dolan together with squatters, storekeepers and the crew of the cutter Margaret and Mary, all sworn in as 'special constables' in a military style campaign against the Aboriginal Peoples of Fraser Island. The campaign lasted ten days and almost no details were released, Walker claimed that on the final assault he had stayed at camp because he was footsore. Local papers reported "...that the natives were driven into the sea, and kept there as long as daylight or life lasted..." and that subsequently the Aboriginal people of Fraser who had hitherto been friendly to shipwreck survivors had then become hostile.[158]

It seems that the repeated missives from the Colonial Secretary had finally been heard. From this point on indiscretion on the part of his officers would invite the ire and sanction of Walker, but mass murder would not. To this end Walker introduced a rule- the first rule of the NMP- that no white man could accompany the NMP in the field unless they were sworn in as constables, and despite the Crown having enabled unsworn testimony to be accept in courts, it would not be until be until 1876 that the testimony of Aboriginal people would be admitted in law.[145]

It is around this time that Frederick Walker and the NMP became victims of their own success. Walker, unlike many who would follow him, viewed the violence of the NMP as a means to an end, not an end in itself. As the genocidal slaughter on the Macintyre showed, Walker was completely comfortable waging war of aggression against the owners of the soil, but his war had a social and economic agenda.[159]

As the frontier expanded and European pastoralists- and later miners- grabbed more and more land, Aboriginal Peoples were obviously going to resist. Walker, like a paternalistic slave owner, believed that resistance must be crushed swiftly and decisively but that once that was achieved Aboriginal peoples would then become a vitally important economic asset. Once the resistance was broken and Aboriginal People enslaved their free labour could provide a boon to pastoralists. To this end he repeatedly encouraged squatters to allow Aboriginal people onto their runs, something that many had refused to do before the presence of the NMP. He wrote of the success of this policy on the Macintyre, "a run which would not have fetched £100 in May, 1849, was disposed of in January, 1850, for £500, so much had property risen in value by the increased security of life and property."[159]

One of the first beneficiaries of this strategy was Augustus Morris, Walker's friend, colleague and sponsor for the position of Commandant, who owned Callandoon station where the strategy had first been trialled. As a result of the success of the trial on Callandoon, Morris "used only Aboriginals as stockmen and Chinese as hut-keepers."[160]

Unfortunately for Walker the success of his brutality on the Macintyre- and the brutality of Marks, the squatters and Europeans who felt displaced by free Aboriginal labour- had both raised the expectations of the squatters and the ire of the Colonial administration, Christians, and those favourably disposed towards Aboriginal Peoples. Cautions from the Colonial administration about ensuring that the activities of the NMP remained within the vague field of vision of the letter of the law now served as a brake upon wholesale slaughter, while the squatters demanded that the NMP be everywhere at once and then grew angry that Walker would not simply repeat the Macintyre solution in their district. The same squatters in the Wide Bay who had lauded his achievements in 1850 were condemning him and demanding the NMP be replaced by an outright military response in 1852.[159]

While much is made of Walker's insobriety and financial irregularities (which were a product of his location beyond the metropolis and the incompetence of the Colonial administration as much as his own failings), his clashes with a local magistrates, disagreements with squatters, the small size of his force, rugged terrain and vast distances and conflicting expectations all contributed to his sacking. Turning up at the Board of Inquiry into his behaviour drunk as a skunk surrounded by a phalanx of armed NMP troopers probably didn't help, although the Board seemed to read the subtext as the inquiry was adjourned and never resumed.[161][162]



Main article: Ustaše

The Ustaše was a Croatian fascist and ultranationalist organization[163] active, as one organization, between 1929 and 1945, formally known as the Ustaša – Croatian Revolutionary Movement (Croatian: Ustaša – Hrvatski revolucionarni pokret). Its members murdered hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews,[164] and Roma as well as political dissidents in Yugoslavia during World War II.[165][166]


The French Armed Forces used death squads during the Algerian War (1954–1962).[167]


Weimar Republic

Main articles: Freikorps and Weimar paramilitary groups

Death squads first appeared in Germany following the end of the First World War and the overthrow of the House of Hohenzollern. In order to prevent a coup d'etat by the Soviet-backed Communist Party of Germany, the Majority Social Democratic-dominated government of the Weimar Republic declared a state of emergency and ordered the recruitment of World War I veterans into militias called the Freikorps. Although officially answering to Defense Minister Gustav Noske, the Freikorps tended to be drunken, trigger happy, and loyal only to their own commanders. However, they were instrumental in the defeat of the 1919 Spartacist Uprising and the annexation of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic. The most famous victims of the Freikorps were the Communist leaders Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who were captured after the suppression of the Spartacist Uprising and shot without trial. After the Freikorps units turned against the Republic in the monarchist Kapp Putsch, many of the leaders were forced to flee abroad and the units were largely disbanded.

Some Freikorps veterans drifted into the ultra-nationalist Organisation Consul, which regarded the 1918 Armistice and the Versailles Treaty as treasonous and assassinated politicians who were associated with them. Among their victims were Matthias Erzberger and Walter Rathenau, both of whom were cabinet ministers in the Weimar regime.

In addition, the city of Munich remained a headquarters of Russian White émigré hit teams, which targeted those who were believed to have betrayed the Tsar. Their most infamous operation remains the 1922 attempt on the life of Russian Provisional Government statesman Pavel Miliukov in Berlin. When newspaper publisher Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov attempted to shield the intended victim, he was fatally shot by assassin Piotr Shabelsky-Bork.

During the same era, the Communist Party of Germany also operated its own assassination squads. Titled, the Rotfrontkämpferbund they carried out assassinations of carefully selected individuals from the Weimar regime as well as assassinations of members of rival political parties. The most infamous operations of Weimar-era Communist death squads remain the 1931 slayings of Berlin Police captains Paul Anlauf and Franz Lenck. Those involved in the ambush either fled to the Soviet Union or were arrested and prosecuted. Among those to receive the death penalty was Max Matern, who was later glorified as a martyr by the East German State. The last surviving conspirator, former East German secret police head Erich Mielke, was belatedly tried and convicted for the murders in 1993. The evidence needed to successfully prosecute him had been found in his personal safe after German reunification.

Nazi Germany

Main articles: Einsatzgruppen and Order police battalions

Einsatzgruppen murder Jews in Ivanhorod, Ukraine, 1942
Einsatzgruppen murder Jews in Ivanhorod, Ukraine, 1942

Between 1933 and 1945, Germany was a one-party state ruled by the fascist Nazi Party and its leader, Adolf Hitler. During this period, the Nazis made extensive use of death squads and targeted killings.

In 1934, Hitler ordered the extrajudicial killings of Ernst Röhm and all members of the Sturmabteilung who remained loyal to him. Simultaneously, Hitler also ordered a mass purge of the German Reichswehr, targeting officers who, like General Kurt von Schleicher, had opposed his drive for absolute power. These massacres have gone down in history as, "The Night of the Long Knives."

Following the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the German Wehrmacht was followed by four travelling death squads called Einsatzgruppen to hunt down and murder Jews, Communists and other so-called undesirables in the occupied areas. This was the first of the massacres which comprised the Holocaust. Typically, the victims, who included women and children, were forcibly marched from their homes to open graves or ravines before being shot. Many others suffocated in specially designed poison trucks called gas vans. Between 1941 and 1944, the Einsatzgruppen murdered some 7,4 million Soviet civilians,[168] 1.3 million Jews, as well as tens of thousands of suspected political dissidents, most of the Polish upper class and intelligentsia, POWs, and uncounted numbers of Romany.[169] These tactics ended only with the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

East Germany

Between the end of World War II and 1989, Germany was divided into the democratic and capitalist Federal Republic of Germany and the Communist German Democratic Republic, a one-party state under the Socialist Unity Party and its secret police, the Stasi. During these years, kangaroo courts and cavalier use of the death penalty were routinely used against suspected enemies of the State.[citation needed] In order to prevent East German citizens from defecting to the West, orders were issued to border guards to shoot suspected defectors on sight. During the 1980s, the Stasi carried out a mission to hunt down and assassinate West Germans who were suspected of smuggling East Germans.[citation needed]

On the orders of the Party leadership and Stasi chief Erich Mielke, the East German Government financed, armed, and trained, "urban guerrillas," from numerous countries. According to ex-Stasi Colonel Rainer Wiegand, ties to terrorist organizations were overseen by Markus Wolf and Department Three of the Stasi's foreign intelligence wing.[170] Members of the West German Rote Armee Fraktion,[171] the Chilean Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front,[172] and the South African Umkhonto we Sizwe[173] were brought to East Germany for training in the use of military hardware and, "the leadership role of the Party."[174] Similar treatment was meted out to Palestinian terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Abu Nidal, and Black September.[175]

Other Stasi agents worked as military advisers to African Marxist guerrillas and the governments they later formed. They included the Namibian SWAPO and the Angolan MPLA during the South African Border War, the FRELIMO during the Mozambican War of Independence and civil war, and Robert Mugabe's ZANLA during the Rhodesian Bush War.[176]

Colonel Wiegand revealed that Mielke and Wolf provided bodyguards from the Stasi's counter-terrorism division for Senior PLO terrorist Carlos the Jackal[177] and Black September leader Abu Daoud[178] during their visits to the GDR. Col. Wiegand had been sickened by the 1972 Munich massacre and was horrified that the GDR would treat the man who ordered it as an honored guest. When he protested, Wiegand was told that Abu Daoud was, "a friend of our country, a high-ranking political functionary," and that there was no proof that he was a terrorist.[179]

During the 1980s, Wiegand secretly recruited a Libyan diplomat into spying on his colleagues. Wiegand's informant told him that the La Belle bombing and other terrorist attacks against western citizens were being planned at the Libyan Embassy in East Berlin. When Wiegand showed him a detailed report, Mielke informed the SED's Politburo, which ordered the Colonel to continue surveillance but not interfere with the plans of the Libyans.[180]

Shortly before German Reunification, West Germany's Federal Constitutional Court indicted former Stasi chief Erich Mielke for collusion with two Red Army Faction terrorist attacks against U.S. military personnel. The first was the car bomb attack at Ramstein Air Base on 31 August 1981. The second was the attempted murder of United States Army General Frederick Kroesen at Heidelberg on 15 September 1981.[181][182] The latter attack, which was carried out by RAF members Brigitte Mohnhaupt and Christian Klar, involved firing an RPG-7 anti-tank rocket into the General's armored Mercedes.[183][184] Due to reasons of senile dementia, Mielke was never placed on trial for either attack.

Federal Republic of Germany

Following German reunification, death squads linked to foreign intelligence services have continued to operate in Germany. The most infamous example of this remains the 1992 Mykonos restaurant assassinations, in which a group of anti-Islamist Iranians were fatally machine-gunned in a Greek restaurant in Berlin. A German court ultimately convicted the assassins and exposed the involvement of intelligence services of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The murder and subsequent trial has been publicized in the nonfiction bestseller The Assassins of the Turquois Palace by Roya Hakakian.


Main article: The Holocaust in Hungary

For most of World War II, Hungary was an ally of Nazi Germany. However, the Regency Council of Admiral Miklós Horthy refused to permit the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Nazi death camps.

Then, in October 1944, Horthy announced a cease-fire with the Allied powers and ordered the Royal Hungarian Army to lay down their arms. In response, Nazi Germany launched Operation Panzerfaust, a covert operation which forced Horthy to abdicate in favour of the Fascist and militantly racist Arrow Cross Party, which was led by Ferenc Szálasi. This was followed by an Arrow Cross coup in Budapest on the same day. Szálasi was declared "Leader of the Nation" and prime minister of a "Government of National Unity".

Arrow Cross rule, despite lasting only three months, was brutal. Death squads killed as many as 38,000 Hungarians. Arrow Cross officers helped Adolf Eichmann re-activate the deportation proceedings from which the Jews of Budapest had previously been spared, sending some 80,000 Jews out of the city on slave labor details and many more straight to death camps. Many Jewish males of conscription age were already serving as slave labor for the Hungarian Army's Forced Labor Battalions. Most of them died, including many who were murdered outright after the end of the fighting as they were returning home. Quickly formed battalions raided the Yellow Star Houses and combed the streets, hunting down Jews claimed to be partisans and saboteurs since Jews attacked Arrow Cross squads at least six to eight times with gunfire.[185] These approximately 200 Jews were taken to the bridges crossing the Danube, where they were shot and their bodies borne away by the waters of the river because many were attached to weights while they were handcuffed to each other in pairs.[186]

Red Army troops reached the outskirts of the city in December 1944, and the Battle of Budapest began, although it has often been claimed that there is no proof that the Arrow Cross members and the Germans conspired to destroy the Budapest Ghetto.[185] Days before he fled the city, Arrow Cross Interior Minister Gábor Vajta commanded that streets and squares named after Jews be renamed.[187]

As control of the city's institutions began to decay, the Arrow Cross trained their guns on the most helpless possible targets: patients in the beds of the city's two Jewish hospitals on Maros Street and Bethlen Square, and residents in the Jewish poorhouse on Alma Road. Arrow Cross members continually sought to raid the ghettos and Jewish concentration buildings; the majority of Budapest's Jews were saved only by a handful of Jewish leaders and foreign diplomats, most famously the Swedish Raoul Wallenberg, the Papal Nuncio Monsignor Angelo Rotta, Swiss Consul Carl Lutz and Francoist Spain's consul general, Giorgio Perlasca.[188] Szálasi knew that the documents used by these diplomats to save Jews were invalid according to international law, but ordered that they be respected.[189]

The Arrow Cross government effectively fell at the end of January 1945, when the Soviet Army took Pest and their enemies forces retreated across the Danube to Buda. Szálasi had escaped from Budapest on 11 December 1944,[189] taking with him the Hungarian royal crown, while Arrow Cross members and German forces continued to fight a rear-guard action in the far west of Hungary until the end of the war in April 1945.

After the war, many of the Arrow Cross leaders were captured and tried for war crimes. Many were executed, including Ferenc Szálasi. Fr. András Kun, a Roman Catholic priest who commanded an Arrow Cross death squad while dressed in his cassock, was also convicted and hanged after the war. Fr. Kun's cassock remains on permanent display at the House of Terror in Budapest.


Irish War of Independence
A group of British intelligence agents (reputedly either the Cairo Gang or Igoe Gang) formed to counter IRA actions during the Irish War of Independence.
A group of British intelligence agents (reputedly either the Cairo Gang or Igoe Gang) formed to counter IRA actions during the Irish War of Independence.

During the Irish War of Independence, the Irish Republican Army under Michael Collins made use of death squads and targeted killings. At the beginning of the conflict, Collins recruited a group of men from the IRA's Dublin Brigade, who were dubbed "The Twelve Apostles". At Collins' orders, the Twelve Apostles strategically assassinated members of Crown security forces, British intelligence spymasters, and moles within IRA ranks. Collins was assisted in this by IRA moles within Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Furthermore, several secretaries working for the British Army High Command in Dublin were also working as spies for Collins.

As British authority in Ireland began to disintegrate, Prime Minister David Lloyd George declared a state of emergency. In order to defeat the IRA, Winston Churchill, the Secretary of State for War, suggested the recruitment of First World War veterans into a paramilitary law enforcement group which would be integrated into the RIC. Lloyd George agreed to the proposal, and advertisements were filed in British newspapers. Groups of formerly enlisted men were formed into the Black and Tans, so called because of the mixture of surplus military and RIC uniforms they were given. Veterans who had held officers rank were formed into the Auxiliary Division of the RIC, the members of which were higher paid and received better supplies. Members of both units, however, were despised by the Irish public, against whom the "Tans" and "Auxies" routinely retaliated against for IRA raids and assassinations.[190]

Members of the Government of the United Kingdom, the British administration in Ireland, and senior officers in the RIC tacitly supported reprisals as a way of scaring the Irish into rejecting the IRA. In December 1920, the British government officially approved certain reprisals against property. There were an estimated 150 official reprisals over the next six months. This further eroded support for British rule among the Irish populace.[191]

A group of Black and Tans in Dublin, April 1921.
A group of Black and Tans in Dublin, April 1921.

On 20 March 1920, Tomás Mac Curtain, the nationalist Lord Mayor of Cork, was shot dead in front of his wife and son by a group of RIC officers with blackened faces.[192]

Enraged, Collins ordered the Twelve Apostles to hunt down and assassinate every one of the RIC officers involved in Mac Curtain's murder. On 22 August 1920, RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who had ordered the assassination, was shot dead with Mac Curtain's revolver while leaving a Protestant church service in Lisburn, County Antrim. This sparked a "pogrom" against the Catholic residents of the town.[193][194]

On Bloody Sunday, Collins' men set out to assassinate members of a British intelligence group known as the Cairo Gang, killing or fatally wounding fifteen men, some of whom were unconnected to the Gang. In one incident, the IRA group was heard to scream, "May the Lord have mercy on your souls", before opening fire.[195]

Collins later said of the incident,

My one intention was the destruction of the undesirables who continued to make miserable the lives of ordinary decent citizens. I have proof enough to assure myself of the atrocities which this gang of spies and informers have committed. If I had a second motive it was no more than a feeling such as I would have for a dangerous reptile. By their destruction the very air is made sweeter. For myself, my conscience is clear. There is no crime in detecting in wartime the spy and the informer. They have destroyed without trial. I have paid them back in their own coin.[196]

That afternoon, the Auxiliary Division opened fire into the crowd during a Gaelic football match at Croke Park in retaliation, killing 14 and wounding 68 players and spectators.

The hostilities ended in 1921 with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which guaranteed the independence of the Irish Free State.

Irish Civil War
Irish Army soldiers escorting a captured IRA member
Irish Army soldiers escorting a captured IRA member

After independence, Irish nationalist movement divided over the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which granted a partitioned Ireland Dominion status within the British Empire. Furthermore, all officials of the new Irish Free State were required to take an oath of allegiance to King George V.

As a result, the Irish Civil War was fought between those Irish nationalists who accepted the Treaty and those who considered it treasonous. Although fought between men who had recently served together against the British, the fighting was often without quarter and brutal atrocities were committed by both sides.

In IRA communications, the Irish State was referred to as, "The Imperial Gang", the "Murder Government", and as "a British-imposed Dáil". Therefore, Irish men and women who supported the Free State were regarded as traitors. At the orders of IRA Chief of Staff Liam Lynch, Anti-Treaty IRA began raising money for their cause via armed robbery of banks and post offices. On 30 November 1922, Liam Lynch issued what were dubbed the "orders of frightfulness", in which he ordered IRA members to assassinate members of the Irish Parliament, or Dáil Éireann, and Senators whenever possible. This General Order sanctioned the assassination of certain judges and newspaper editors. The IRA also launched a concerted arson campaign against the homes of members of the Dáil, or TDs. Among these attacks were the burning of the house of TD James McGarry, resulting in the death of his seven-year-old son and the murder of Free state minister Kevin O'Higgins elderly father and burning of his family home at Stradbally in early 1923.

After TD Sean Hales was assassinated, the Dáil began to treat the civil war as a state of emergency. They voted to retaliate by summarily executing four captured members of IRA Executive -- Rory O'Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey. After the motion passed, all four men were executed by firing squad on 8 December 1922. During the conflict, at least 73 other captured IRA men were treated in the same fashion—some following court martial, others without trial. There are no conclusive figures for the number of unofficial executions of captured IRA insurgents, but Republican officer Todd Andrews estimated 153.[197] (see Executions during the Irish Civil War).

At the beginning of the Civil War, the Irish State formed a special counter-terrorism police, which was called the Criminal Investigation Department. Based in Dublin's Oriel House, the CID were despised by the Anti-Treaty IRA, which referred to them as "The Murder Gang". During the Battle of Dublin, the CID is known to have shot 25 Anti-Treaty militants, officially while, "resisting arrest." Ultimately, the Irish State disbanded CID upon the cessation of hostilities in 1923.

Despite the best efforts of the Anti-Treaty forces, both the Irish Army and the CID proved highly effective in both combat and intelligence work. One tactic involved placing IRA message couriers under surveillance, which routinely led the Irish security forces to senior members of the insurgency.

According to historian Tom Mahon, the Irish Civil War "effectively ended" on 10 April 1923, when the Irish Army tracked down and mortally wounded Liam Lynch during a skirmish in the Knockmealdown Mountains of County Tipperary. Twenty days later, Lynch's successor, Frank Aiken, gave the order to "Surrender and dump arms."[198]


Russian Empire

Main articles: Oprichnik, Individual terror, and White Terror (Russia)

Oprichniki, painting by Nikolai Nevrev
Oprichniki, painting by Nikolai Nevrev

The first organized use of death squad violence in Russia dates from the 16th century reign of Ivan the Terrible, the first Russian monarch to claim the title of Tsar. Named the Oprichniki, they wore quivers which contained brooms, symbolizing their mission to ferret the enemies of the Tsar. They dressed in black garb, which was similar to a Russian Orthodox monastic habit, and bore the insignia of a severed dog's head (to sniff out treason and the enemies of the Tsar) and a broom (to sweep them away). The dog's head was also symbolic of their "nipping at the heels of the Tsar's enemies." They were sometimes called the "Tsar's Dogs" on account of their loyalty to him. They also rode black horses in order to inspire a greater level of terror.

Their oath of allegiance was: I swear to be true to the Lord, Grand Prince, and his realm, to the young Grand Princes, and to the Grand Princess, and not to maintain silence about any evil that I may know or have heard or may hear which is being contemplated against the Tsar, his realms, the young princes or the Tsaritsa. I swear also not to eat or drink with the zemshchina, and not to have anything in common with them. On this I kiss the cross.[199]

Led by Malyuta Skuratov, the Oprichniki routinely tortured and executed whomever the Tsar suspected of treason, including boyars, merchants, clergymen, commoners, and even entire cities. The memoirs of Heinrich von Staden, provide a detailed description of both the Tsar's motivations and the inner workings of the Oprichniki.

The most famous victims of the Oprichniki remains Kyr Philip Kolychev, the Metropolitan bishop of Moscow. The Metropolitan gave a sermon in the Tsar's presence in which he rebuked Ivan for terrorizing and murdering large numbers of innocent people and their families. Enraged, Tsar Ivan convened a Church council which declared Metropolitan Philip defrocked and imprisoned in a monastery for delinquent clergy. Years later, Tsar Ivan sent an emissary demanding Metropolitan Philip's blessing on his plans for the Novgorod massacre. Metropolitan Philip said, "Only the good are blessed."

Enraged, Tsar Ivan sent Skuratov to personally strangle the Metropolitan in his monastic cell. Metropolitan Philip was subsequently glorified as a Saint by the Russian Orthodox Church.

In later centuries, Russian Tsars would declare a state of emergency and use death squad tactics in order to suppress domestic uprisings like Pugachev's Rebellion and the Russian Revolution of 1905. During the latter, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia ordered the Imperial Russian Army to ally itself with the Black Hundreds, an ultra-nationalist paramilitary group. Those captured in arms against the Tsar's forces were tried by military tribunals before being hanged or shot. According to Simon Sebag Montefiore, being caught wearing similar clothing to Anti-Tsarist militias was often enough for court martial followed by execution. These tactics were continued by the anti-communist White Movement during the Russian Civil War (1917-1920).

Opponents of the House of Romanov also carried out targeted killings of those deemed as enemies of Socialism, which was referred to as individual terror. Among them were the People's Will, the Bolshevik Battle Squad, and the Combat Brigade of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. Among the victims of Marxist death squads were Tsar Alexander II of Russia, the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, and the Georgian language poet and publisher Ilia Chavchavadze. These tactics were drastically accelerated following the October Revolution.

Soviet Union

Main articles: Political repression in the Soviet Union and Purges of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the former Russian Empire spent 73 years as the Soviet Union, a one party state ruled by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Especially between 1917 and 1953, the CPSU routinely ordered the abduction, torture, and execution of massive numbers of real and suspected anti-communists. Those with upper class origins were routinely targeted in this way during the early years of the Soviet Union.

Most of the repression was committed by the regular forces of the state, like the army and the police, but there were also many cases of clandestine and covert operations.

During the interwar period, the NKVD routinely targeted anti-Stalinists in the West for abduction or murder. Among them were the CPSU's former Commissar of War, Leon Trotsky, who was assassinated in Mexico City on 21 August 1940 by NKVD officer Ramon Mercador. Furthermore, former White Army Generals Alexander Kutepov and Evgeny Miller were abducted in Paris by the NKVD. Kutepov is alleged to have had a heart attack before he could be smuggled back to Moscow, and shot. General Miller was not so fortunate and died in Moscow's Lubianka Prison. Yevhen Konovalets, the founder of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, was blown to bits by NKVD officer Pavel Sudoplatov in Rotterdam on 23 May 1938.

In the post-war period, the Russian Orthodox Church collaborated with the Soviet State in a campaign to eliminate Eastern Rite Catholicism in the newly annexed regions of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.[200] Priests and laity who refused to convert to Orthodoxy were either assassinated or deported to the GULAGs in Karaganda.[201] On 27 October 1947, the NKVD staged a car accident in order to assassinate the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Bishop Theodore Romzha of Mukachevo.[202] When the "accident" failed to kill the Bishop, the NKVD poisoned him in his hospital bed on 1 November 1947.[203]

Even in the post-Stalin era, the Soviet secret police continued to assassinate anti-communists in the West. Two of the most notable victims were Lev Rebet and Stepan Bandera, Ukrainian nationalists who were assassinated by the KGB in Munich, West Germany. Both deaths were believed to be accidental until 1961, when their murderer, Bohdan Stashynsky, defected to the West with his wife and voluntarily surrendered to West German authorities.

Russian Federation

The Russian Armed Forces has been accused of using death squads against Chechen insurgents.[204] After defecting to the United States in October, 2000, Sergei Tretyakov, an SVR agent, accused the Government of the Russian Federation of following Soviet-era practices by routinely assassinating its critics abroad.


Prior to World War II, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fought a war by proxy during the Spanish Civil War. There were death squads used by both the Falangists and Republicans during this conflict. Prominent victims of the era's death squad violence include the poet Federico García Lorca, José Robles, and journalist Ramiro Ledesma Ramos. (see also Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War).

The Republican death squads were heavily staffed by members of Joseph Stalin's OGPU and targeted members of the Catholic clergy and the Spanish nobility for assassination (see Red Terror).

According to author Donald Rayfield,

Stalin, Yezhov, and Beria distrusted Soviet participants in the Spanish war. Military advisors like Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, journalists like Koltsov were open to infection by the heresies, especially Trotsky's, prevalent among the Republic's supporters. NKVD agents sent to Spain were therefore keener on abducting and murdering anti-Stalinists among Republican leaders and International Brigade commanders than on fighting Franco. The defeat of the Republic, in Stalin's eyes, was caused not by the NKVD's diversionary efforts, but by the treachery of the heretics.[205]

John Dos Passos later wrote,

I have come to think, especially since my trip to Spain, that civil liberties must be protected at every stage. In Spain I am sure that the introduction of GPU methods by the Communists did as much harm as their tank men, pilots and experienced military men did good. The trouble with an all powerful secret police in the hands of fanatics, or of anybody, is that once it gets started there's no stopping it until it has corrupted the whole body politic.[206]

The ranks of the Republican assassination squads included Erich Mielke, the future head of the East German Ministry of State Security. Walter Janka, a veteran of the Republican forces who remembers him described Mielke's career as follows,

While I was fighting at the front, shooting at the Fascists, Mielke served in the rear, shooting Trotskyites and Anarchists.[207]

In the modern era, death squads, including the Batallón Vasco Español, Triple A, Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación (GAL) were illegally set up by officials within the Spanish government to fight ETA. They were active from 1975 until 1987, operating under Spanish Socialist Workers' Party cabinets from 1982.

United Kingdom

During the Troubles, an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland which lasted from the 1960's until the 1990's, numerous accusations of collusion between the British state and Loyalist paramilitaries were made. The Military Reaction Force (MRF), a disbanded British Intelligence Corps unit which operated undercover in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, was described by a former member as a "legalised death squad".[208] In an interview, another former MRF member stated that "If you had a player who was a well-known shooter who carried out quite a lot of assassinations... then he had to be taken out. [They were] killers themselves, and they had no mercy for anybody."[209]

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), an Irish republican paramilitary organisation, was also accused of operating death squads in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Historians have described the IRA's Internal Security Unit as a death squad, which targeted suspected informers by conducting investigations, interrogating suspects and executing those the IRA thought were guilty of passing on information to British security forces.[210] Prior to any execution carried out by the Internal Security Unit, an ad hoc court-martial of the suspected informer would take place, and any death sentence passed would need to be ratified by the IRA Army Council in advance. [211]


Main article: Srebrenica Massacre

The Srebrenica Massacre, also known as the Srebrenica Genocide,[212][213][214] was the July 1995 killing of an estimated 8,000 Bosniak men and boys, as well as the ethnic cleansing of 1,000–2,000 refugees in the area of Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, by units of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) under the command of General Ratko Mladić during the Bosnian War. In addition to the VRS, a paramilitary unit from Serbia known as the Scorpions participated in the massacre.[215]

In Potočari, some of the executions were carried out at night under arc lights, and industrial bulldozers then pushed the bodies into mass graves.[216] According to evidence collected from Bosniaks by French policeman Jean-René Ruez, some were buried alive; he also heard testimony describing Serb forces killing and torturing refugees at will, streets littered with corpses, people committing suicide to avoid having their noses, lips and ears chopped off, and adults being forced to watch the soldiers kill their children.[216]

In 2004, in a unanimous ruling on the "Prosecutor v. Krstić" case, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) located in The Hague ruled that the Srebrenica massacre was genocide.[217]

Human rights groups

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (April 2022)

Many human rights organisations like Amnesty International are campaigning against extrajudicial punishment along with the UN.[77][218][219]

See also



Constructs such as ibid., loc. cit. and idem are discouraged by Wikipedia's style guide for footnotes, as they are easily broken. Please improve this article by replacing them with named references (quick guide), or an abbreviated title. (January 2022) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
  1. ^ Campbell, Bruce B. (2000). "Death Squads: Definition, Problems, and Historical Context". Death Squads in Global Perspective. pp. 1–26. doi:10.1057/9780230108141_1. ISBN 978-1-4039-6094-8.
  2. ^ Kaufman, Edy; Fagen, Patricia Weiss (27 November 1981). "Extrajudicial Executions: An Insight into the Global Dimensions of a Human Rights Violation". Human Rights Quarterly. 3 (4): 81–100. doi:10.2307/762112. JSTOR 762112.
  3. ^ Laignel-Lavastine, Alexandra. Cioran, Eliade, Ionesco. L'oubli du fascisme. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2002, 116.
  4. ^ Interview of Paul Aussaresses by Marie-Monique Robin in Escadrons de la mort – l'école française (See here, starting at 8min38)
  5. ^ de Onas, Juan (6 December 1980). "U.S. Suspends New Aid to El Salvador until Deaths Are Clarified". New York Times. p. 1.
  6. ^ "When a wave of torture and murder staggered a small U.S. ally, truth was a casualty". Baltimore Sun. 11 June 1995.
  7. ^ Franchetti, Mark (26 April 2009). "Russian death squads 'pulverise' Chechens". The Times. London. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  8. ^ Kurt, Michael (13 March 2022). "According to a captured soldier, Moscow's "death squads" murder all deserters attempting to flee Ukraine". Techno Trenz. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
  9. ^ Ong, Danielle (13 March 2022). "Putin Has Death Squad Killing Troops Escaping Ukraine War, Captured Soldier Reveals". International Business Times. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
  10. ^ Lang, Rachel (13 March 2022). "Captured Russian Soldiers Claim They'll Face Death By Firing Squad If They Return Home". LADbible Group. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
  11. ^ "Villagers Tortured to Death in Ivory Coast Park – UN". Planet Ark. 18 March 2005. Archived from the original on 18 March 2005. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  12. ^ "Soro Guillaume et son escadron de la mort". 17 February 2004.
  13. ^ "Ivory Coast". Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  14. ^ Lynch, Colum (29 January 2005). "Ivory Coast First Lady Leads Death Squad, Report Alleges". The Washington Post. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  15. ^ "Les vérités de Gbagbo". 18 September 2007.
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  1. ^ "Mohamed Ali Agca of Turkey, the man who shot at Pope John Paul II in Rome had no political motive. The investigating agency in Italy tried to establish his link with the Turkey based terrorist group, 'Grey Wolf,' however, could not get any evidence of his political connection."[134]


Further reading