AT the heart of the city with the highest murder rate in the world is a “holy temple” dedicated to the gangsters behind the killings.
The Santos Malandros (Holy Thugs) shrine in Venezuela’s capital city has become a magnet for those terrified of death.
More than 14,000 people were killed in the country last year and Caracas has the highest murder rate per capita in the world.
It is in the middle of all this mindless bloodshed that the bizarre cult of the “Holy Thugs” was born – and it’s growing by the day.
Locals are now so desperate for protection they worship the spirits of these dead gangsters in return for protection and luck.
The cap-wearing statues have handguns tucked in their brightly-coloured trousers and cigarettes hanging from their mouths.
Those that visit the memorials are told to light a fag, place it in the mouth of the statue before taking part in a bizarre ritual.
They are ordered to strip off their shirt, are threatened with knives before they are told they have been “saved from violence.”
They are far removed from the usual religious icons which are treasured in the traditionally catholic South American country.
One local said: “If you worship them, they will help you. They are trustworthy. If you believe they will help you.”