Brazilian authorities say they have arrested nearly 20 police officers suspected of taking part in a death squad that allegedly murdered and tortured innocent women and children.

Federal police spokesman Elias Abraao says 19 Goias state troopers face charges ranging from murder and hiding bodies to torture and gang formation.

He says the group was active for at least 10 years and killed at least 40 people.

Abraao said Wednesday most of the victims were drug traffickers and thieves "the vigilante group felt it had the right to get rid of."

But he says several of those killed were women, children and teenagers unconnected to criminal activities.