Bank robbers armed with explosives and high-powered rifles plunged a city in Sao Paulo state’s interior 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, 520 kilometers (323 miles) from Sao Paulo and home to almost 200,000 people.
After ransacking at least two bank branches, the criminals drove away with hostages atop their cars’ roofs and hoods, clinging on to keep from sliding off. Another hostage stood with his torso protruding from an SUV’s sunroof and his hands held in the air.
At least three people were killed in the clash, two of whom were civilians, according to the state’s public security secretariat. One was a local businessman who went to the location to film the attack and the other a delivery boy, per preliminary information. Local media reported the third person killed was a criminal.
Large-scale bank heists have become more frequent in recent years, with hostages used as human shields. Last July, a group of criminals stormed Botucatu, and, over two days in December, two cities on opposite sides of the country.
The coordinated attack on Monday involved dozens of criminals and at least 10 cars. They reportedly used a drone to monitor the movements of police who were struggling to respond to the assault. The criminals had burned vehicles in strategic locations to impede access.
Araçatuba’s mayor, Dilador Borges, said authorities believe undetonated explosives remain in some areas of the city center, and called on residents to remain in their homes.
Local media reported that branches belonging to state banks Caixa Federal and Banco do Brasil were the ones targeted. In a response to a request for comment, Caixa said it only provides information about crimes to police. Banco do Brasil said it is collaborating with authorities, and that it doesn’t disclose the amount of money stolen in robberies.