RIO DE JANEIRO (NYTIMES) - Heavily-armed assailants stormed a small city in south-east Brazil early Monday (Aug 30), in a brazen operation to rob banks that included explosives, charred vehicles and hostages that were tied to the roof of cars.
The mayhem in Araçatuba, a city that is home to 200,000 people in São Paulo state, left at least three people dead, police officials said. The mayor urged residents to stay home while police experts sought to defuse 14 makeshift bombs that were installed in the downtown area as part of the assault.
Photos and videos residents posted on social media showed several cars with hostages tied to the roof, a chilling tactic that appeared designed to prevent the police from opening fire on getaway vehicles.
The attack was the latest on a small city in Brazil carried out by large, well-trained groups of gunmen who have found it relatively easy to overwhelm local security forces while they ransack banks and businesses overnight.
"It was horrific," the mayor of Araçatuba, Dilador Borges, said in a televised interview early Monday, noting that police held their fire once they realised the robbers had tied passers-by to their cars. "The police didn't come closer because they saw the hostages. The tragedy could have been far worse."
Capt Alexandre Guedes, a military police official, said the assailants planted several explosive devices around the city in an apparent effort to imperil a police response. The gunmen also used drones to monitor the police response in real time, investigators said.
As of 10 am on Monday, authorities said at least 10 of the suspected gunmen were in custody. The three dead people included one suspected assailant and two residents, according to police.
One resident had his legs amputated after he was struck by one of the devices, police said. Guedes said investigators were trying to determine whether all hostages have been released and whether any gunmen remain in Araçatuba. "We're trying to save lives and to defuse these explosives," he said.
There was no estimate of how much the gunmen managed to steal.