Bank robbers armed with explosives and high-powered rifles have plunged a Brazilian city into terror early Monday, taking civilians hostage and even putting some on their cars while making their escape.
Video shared on social media showed a booming shootout and men dressed in black marching hostages down a street in Araçatuba, 320 miles from São Paulo and home to almost 200,000 people.
After ransacking at least two bank branches, the criminals drove away with hostages on their cars’ roofs, clinging on to keep from sliding off. At least three people were killed in the clash, including two civilians.
The brazen attack is the latest in a series of increasingly violent bank heists in Brazil. Experts believe a pandemic welfare programme for poorer Brazilians has encouraged robbers to plan bold raids in sleepy regional cities where bank branches are storing more cash.
More than 20 heavily armed men carried out the robberies in Araçatuba, using 10 cars, said Álvaro Camilo, the executive secretary of Sao Paulo’s military police. As the gang made their getaway, they also left a trail of explosive booby traps across the city.
Camilo urged people not to leave their houses until the explosives have been found and deactivated.
There were two separate firefights with police, and three people died, Camilo said. Two of the fatalities were local residents, while one of the alleged assailants was also killed. He said another suspect had been injured, and a third was under arrest.
There were more than 350 police in the city, using two helicopters to track down the attackers, Camilo said, adding that a Banco do Brasil SA branch in Araçatuba was a repository to store cash – something state officials were not aware of.
There were two similar bank raids on consecutive days in the cities of Cametá and Criciúma in late December. In both cases branches of Banco do Brasil were targeted. Camilo said it was to early to tell where the most recent raid was related to other recent attacks.
Brazil has a long history of bank heists and major lenders have struggled with a wave of violent robberies in recent years.