Brazilian police identify five more people linked to the killings of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira | Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

Police investigating the murder of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous lawyer Bruno Pereira have identified five other people linked to the killings, increasing the number of suspects in a crime that has shocked Brazil , increased to eight.

Police had already arrested two brothers, one of whom confessed to the crime, and a third man turned himself in to authorities on Saturday.

State police in Atalaia do Norte – the riverside town where Phillips and Pereira began their final journey – told the Guardian that the five suspects have been charged over their alleged involvement in helping the men transport the remains of Phillips and Pereira, 24 determined hours after the shooting.

Investigator David Da Rocha described the investigation as “90% complete” and said the expected arrests would likely be the last in the process. He said the five men he wanted to arrest were relatives of the two imprisoned brothers. Police were awaiting a court order to begin the arrests, hoping to charge them with manslaughter as well.

Da Rocha maintained his belief that the murder suspects did not act on anyone’s orders, stating the crime was not part of a broader criminal conspiracy. This characterization, shared by Brazil’s Federal Police, has been vigorously opposed by indigenous activists in the region, who have argued that the killings are linked to organized criminal groups.

Phillips was a British journalist researching for a book on sustainable development in the Amazon, and Pereira helped him traverse remote parts of the rainforest where he conducted interviews.

The couple were shot dead on June 5 and buried deep in the rainforest. Their bodies were discovered last week when one of the two brothers confessed to the crime.

Police said Phillips was shot to the body while Pereira was shot three times, twice in the chest and abdomen and once in the head. The weapons used in the killing were of the type used by hunters, police said.

The announcement came as unions working at Brazil’s national indigenous organization Funai called a five-day strike this week to oust the organization’s president, who they say is working against the interests of Brazil’s indigenous people.

Officials from three unions are scheduled to vote on the strike on Monday but are confident that members in most of Brazil’s 27 states will join the hiatus, which will also serve to force authorities to widen investigations into the crime.

“The focus of the strike is displacement [the Funai president] Marcelo Xavier,” said Priscila Colotetti, executive director of Indigenistas Associados, an association of FUNAI workers. “Under Xavier, it’s not that indigenous policies are difficult to implement, it’s that indigenous policies don’t exist. So we need a longer strike to exert pressure.

“We are also urging a proper investigation into the murders of Dom and Bruno so they can find out who ordered the crime.”

Officials last week claimed the suspects acted alone, but that conclusion has been questioned, not least by local Indigenous groups, which previously reported the presence of drug gangs and organized crime mafia in the area.

The announcement contributed to the widespread lack of trust that local people had in state bodies such as the police and, increasingly, the Funai.

The indigenous foundation has been undermined and underfunded by Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, current and former officials there said. Bolsonaro wants to open up tribal lands to loggers and miners, threatening the communities that have lived in the area for thousands of years.

Xavier’s place at the helm of an organization tasked with caring for and protecting an estimated 235 indigenous tribes has also been questioned, including by Pereira, a former FUNAI staffer.

Xavier said that in the days following the disappearance, the couple had not obtained the necessary permits to enter indigenous lands, as is required in Brazil. However, indigenous groups said they did not need the permits because they had not ventured onto indigenous territory. A judge agreed, ordering Xavier to remove his statement from the Funai website and not to disparage the two missing people. Funai complied.

The Funai issued a belated statement on June 16, saying “Pereira leaves behind an immense legacy” and celebrating what she described as an “extreme devotion … to the indigenous people for whom he has worked tirelessly.”

Pereira, 41, had previously clashed with Xavier, a former police chief appointed by Bolsonaro in July 2019. Pereira worked for Funai until the end of the year when Xavier removed him from his post. Pereira said he believes the decision was made because he led a successful operation against illegal mines on indigenous land.

After leaving Funai, the father of three worked for indigenous communities in the Javari Valley, a remote and densely forested region on Brazil’s western border with Peru. It was there, on a calm stretch of the Itaquaí River, that he and Phillips were last seen alive.

Sunday’s strike call comes five days after union members at FUNAI’s headquarters in the capital Brasília were joined by colleagues in two other states in a lightning-fast day-long work stoppage.

Colotetti said that workers would be threatened with dismissal if they continued the strike but did not allow themselves to be intimidated.

“We’re going to lose the money from the days we’re out and there are other threats that come through back channels, too,” she said. “People in leadership positions are being warned that they will be removed and those in office are being warned that they will be sent back. The directors are trying to put a stop to it.”