Bank robbers armed with explosives and powerful rifles frightened the city into the interior of the state of Sao Paulo, taking civilians hostage and even putting some on cars as they fled.
RIO DE JANEIRO-Bank robbers armed with explosives and powerful rifles stormed a town in the interior of the state of Sao Paulo early Monday, taking civilians hostage and even putting some in cars as they fled.
A video posted on social media shows the shooting and men dressed in black marching hostages down a street in Araçatuba, 520 kilometers (323 miles) from Sao Paulo and home to nearly 200,000 people.
After robbing at least two bank branches, the criminals drove off with hostages on the roofs and hoods of their cars, holding on so as not to slip. The other hostage stood with his torso protruding from the roof of the SUV and his arms up.
At least three people were killed in the conflict, two of them civilians, according to the state secretariat for public safety. One was a local businessman who went to the scene of the attack and the other a delivery man, according to preliminary information. Local media reported that a third criminal was killed.
Robberies of large banks have become more frequent in recent years, and hostages have been used as human shields. Last July, a group of criminals stormed Botucata, and for two days in December, in two cities on opposite sides of the country.
There were dozens of criminals and at least 10 cars in the coordinated attack on Monday. They reportedly used a drone to track the movements of police struggling to respond to the attack. Criminals burned vehicles at strategic locations to prevent access.
Araçatube Mayor Dilador Borges said authorities believe the unexploded ordnance remains in some parts of the city center, and urged residents to stay in their homes.
Local media reported that the targets were subsidiaries of state-owned banks Caixa Federal and Banco do Brasil. Responding to a request for comment, Caixa said she only provides police with information about the crimes. Banco do Brasil said he was cooperating with authorities and did not disclose the amount of money stolen in the robberies.