RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – A dozen armed gunmen attacked a city in the south of Brazil one night on Tuesday and took control of the streets while a local bank was abused.
A video broadcast on the Globo television network showed men in black hoodies walking the streets of Criciuma in the state of Santa Catarina, and locals were taken hostage during a coup that began around midnight and lasted nearly two hours. Shots echoed about 220,000 people in the city.
At least 30 attackers and 10 cars took part in the well-planned action, Anselmo Cruz, head of the state police’s robbery and kidnapping department, said at a news conference, speaking alongside the governor and mayor. They blocked access to the city, including by burning vehicles, to prevent police forces from reacting quickly, and carried out an explosion during the robbery.
The gunmen were trading with officers downtown and the police, Santa Catarina military police said on an official Twitter account. Two people were injured in the firefight: a security guard and a police officer who was shot in the abdomen and remained in serious condition at the hospital on Tuesday.
“It was an unprecedented action for the state. There has never been such a scale of violence, ”Cruz said in a separate interview with Globo News. He was quoted by the television network as saying the robbers fired bullets with caliber capable of launching a helicopter.
José Damasio drove home from work around 11:30 pm as he passed the street sweepers and other municipal employees who had painted the intersections. Damasio could not have known that they would soon be taken hostage.
“If I had slipped for 20 minutes, just a little later, I would have cheated,” Damasio, 27, told the Associated Press by phone. “I got home and heard the shots 15 minutes later.”
Through the window of his home, Damasio said he saw the men shoot into the air – every high-powered shot pounding like a bomb. He was sheltered in a back room with his mother and remained there until the shooting stopped.
Pictures of the Globo show a bank vault with a square hole and the vehicles of the criminals as they fled. Bills were scattered in one area of the city, and the Folha de S.Paulo reported that police had arrested several people who had collected notes worth $ 810,000 ($ 150,000).
Police later found the attackers’ vehicles on a cornfield in the neighboring municipality. Some of the interiors of the cars were painted with blood, indicating that some of the gunmen were hit by police bullets, Santa Catarina police said on their Twitter account.
The state-owned Bank of Brazil said in an email that its branch in Criciuma will remain closed and will not provide information on the amount of money taken. Did not respond to the AP’s request to comment on the local media, the branch was a regional treasury.
The brazen robbery resembled another that took place in July in Botucatu, Sao Paulo. There about 30 armed men blew up the bank branch, took the hostages hostage, and exchanged weapons with the police before they escaped.
The similarity between the two attacks indicates that they may have been coordinated by one of Brazil’s powerful organized crime and drug trafficking groups, said Cássio Thyone, a board member of the nonprofit Brazilian Public Security Forum. Such incidents have occurred with some frequency over the past decade, he said.
“Crime has moved into the interior; cities that did not suffer from crime became vulnerable because of their characteristics, ”Thyone said, highlighting the limited police presence and fewer access points.
Clésio Salvaro, the mayor of Criciuma, was on Twitter overnight while the attack was still unfolding to warn residents of the “large-scale robbery committed by highly trained thieves.”
“As the mayor of Criciuma, I ask you to stay home, not to leave your home, to take every precaution,” Salvaro said in a video posted before 2 a.m. Tuesday. – Tell your friends and family. Let the police do their thing.
According to Thyone, the attack reflects a failure of intelligence, a lack of integration between security forces, and that local police are unprepared to face threats of this magnitude.