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Brazilian bank robbers invade another city, sowing chaos and death

Military police officers carry a bag filled with money while other officers watch.
Military police officers carry a bag filled with money left behind by armed bank robbers who took over the town of Criciuma, Brazil, on Monday night.
(Guilherme Hahn / Futura Press)

For the second night in a row, heavily armed bank robbers invaded a midsize city in Brazil, taking residents hostage as they looted a bank.

The violence in the Amazonian city of Cameta came just one day after criminals struck another midsize city in a similar bank robbery on the opposite side of the country.

The public security secretariat of Para state said in a statement that more than 20 criminals with assault rifles targeted a branch of the state-run Bank of Brazil in Cameta, a city of 140,000 people. Video on social media showed a line of about a dozen hostages being led away from a square and shots ringing out in the night Tuesday.

“They drove around shooting at the police and at the houses. It was a horrible scene to see,” Junior Gaia, who lives nearby, said in an interview with television network Globo News. “We were all laid out on the floor, afraid they would invade the homes.”

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Local media reported that a military police station was attacked, preventing officers from responding.

Neither the bank nor officials immediately said how much money might have been stolen.

More than 600 people were killed by police in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state in the first months of this year, and most were black or biracial.

The coordinated attack came a day after a similar overnight robbery of a Bank of Brazil branch in Brazil’s southern region. In the city of Criciuma, dozens of gunmen armed with assault rifles seized the city and took hostages as they used explosives to rob a bank.

As in Cameta, the Criciuma robbers took measures to impede the police response and fired shots into the air, apparently to scare people into staying indoors.

The robberies took place at the start of December, when bank coffers are filled in anticipation of employees withdrawing their year-end bonuses, said Cassio Thyone, a council member of the nonprofit Brazilian Forum on Public Safety. Many Brazilians get an extra month’s pay in December, known as the 13th salary.

“It doesn’t happen without planning,” Thyone said of the robberies. “It’s another demonstration that everything is planned. They think of the location, and the timing.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who consistently downplays the COVID-19 pandemic, suffered heavy losses in mayoral elections across the country.

The Bank of Brazil said in a statement that it is collaborating with police investigators and has yet to begin evaluating the structural damage to its branch in Cameta. Images published by online media outlet G1 showed the facade blown open and shards of glass littering the ground.

In Cameta, tactical forces as well as police from other areas were dispatched to reinforce the police. Authorities located the criminals’ abandoned truck and found explosive devices within it, according to the security secretariat.

Two people were shot, including one hostage, a young man, who was killed. The other has been hospitalized with a leg wound.

Cameta Mayor Waldoli Valente offered his condolences for the victim on Facebook.

“Our city was always peaceful and I ask that everyone stay at home,” he posted about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The two overnight robberies resembled another in July in the city of Botucatu in Sao Paulo state. There, about 30 armed men blew up a bank branch, took residents hostage and exchanged gunfire with police before making their getaway.


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