12:19 PM PDT, August 30, 2021
At least three people are dead after a group of brazen bank robbers strapped hostages to the top of their getaway cars after a raid of several banks in the southern city of Araçatuba, Brazil, BBC News reported.
About 20 armed robbers are thought to have raided three banks in the center of Araçatuba early Monday morning, the New York Post reported.
Some residents reported hearing gunfire and explosions, according to the BBC. The suspects allegedly placed explosives on the route of their escape. The explosives went off as cars or people got close to them, officials siad. Reports say a 25-year-old cyclist accidentally detonated one of the proximity bombs as he rode on the street and was left with serious leg injuries.
The alleged robbers also attacked a police station and placed burned-out cars to block roads and slow down the authorities’ response to their crimes.
The robbers also plucked hostages on the street and put them to the top of their vehicles and used them as human shields, according to police.
It’s believed the hostages that were tied to the hoods of the vehicles were later released, Metro news reported.
The criminals also used drones to capture the movements of police, according to Brazilian news organization G1.
One hostage, who managed to escape the clutches of the criminals, spoke to G1 about the ordeal.
“We were returning from a party. They stopped the car and… threw me on the ground, they threw us into a truck, they kidnapped us,” the unnamed person said. “We were praying all the way. They stopped us at the bank, pointed the gun in my face several times. I had to beg for my life, get help. I had to escape, otherwise they would kill me. I begged for my life, showed me my waist, they saw I had [no weapon]. Thank God I managed to run away, I entered a hotel. They were heavily armed. They pointed R15, AK 47 in my face.”
The mayor of Araçatuba, Dilador Borges, said law enforcement had to avoid using heavy force and had to stand down because they did not want to cause any civilian casualties during the madness.
“The police can’t go on the attack; they can’t confront them because there are too many lives on the line,” he told Brazil’s Band TV.
Two suspects were later arrested, according to reports. At least 50 people took part in the planning and execution of the robberies, according to police.
Araçatuba is just 290 miles from Sao Paulo. It remains unclear as to how much money was stolen from the banks.
All of Araçatuba has been placed on lockdown as police search for any remaining explosives, which could still be scattered on the streets.
Since 2015, brazen bank heists of this scale have become increasingly frequent in Brazil, according to BBC. Locals call the heists the “New Cangaço,” which was a phrase first used to describe the banditry that plagued parts of Brazil in the 1920s and 1930s, BBC reported.
The heists generally happen in small to medium sized cities and the criminals target banks and armored cars, according to reports.