More than 20 armed robbers stormed a bank in a small Brazilian town on Wednesday, taking hostages, exchanging gunfire with police in the streets and killing one person before fleeing in a convoy of vehicles.
The attack, in the early hours of the morning in the northern riverside city of Cameta, which has a population of 140,000 people, was the second such heist in as many days in Brazil, marking an escalation in the scale, organisation and aggression of bank robberies.
“They drove around shooting at the police and at the houses. It was a horrible scene to see,” said Junior Gaia, who lives nearby, in an interview with television network Globo News. “We were all laid out on the floor, afraid they would invade the homes.”
O negócio é sério gente! E a cidade não tem recursos pra um negócio desse!😞 Cametá pic.twitter.com/VIMtEoU5xT
— John Victor (@DuarteVictor16) December 2, 2020
The attack saw the group of men, armed with high-calibre weapons, storm a branch of Banco do Brasil SA, the Para state security ministry said.
Images on social media showed a firefight in the streets of the town. The robbers killed one hostage during the heist, the ministry added, while another local resident was shot in the leg and is in a stable condition in hospital.
“We pray to God to comfort the family of the young man who lost his life,” Cameta Mayor Waldoli Valente wrote on Facebook.
The robberies took place at the start of December, when bank coffers are filled in anticipation of employees withdrawing their year-end bonuses, according to Cassio Thyone, a council member of the non-profit Brazilian Forum on Public Safety.
“It doesn’t happen without planning,” Thyone told the Associated Press by phone. “It’s another demonstration that everything is planned. They think of the location, and the timing.”
The security ministry said it had found one abandoned getaway vehicle outside the town with explosives inside. The town was now calm, it added, with police reinforcements arriving by plane and boat.
NOITE DE TERROR EM CAMETÁ, PARÁ: Mais imagens dos reféns sendo colocados no carro. pic.twitter.com/Rgb0NGC6Br
— Allan Dos Santos (@allanldsantos) December 2, 2020
It was not immediately clear how many hostages had been taken or if they were all freed. Authorities also did not say how much money was stolen from the bank.
Brazil has a long history of bank heists, and major lenders have struggled with a wave of violent robberies in recent years.
Still, the country’s banking lobby association Febraban said bank raids fell 48.35 percent, year-on-year, to 47 attacks in the first nine months of 2020.
The Cameta attack came a day after a similar heist to a Banco do Brasil branch in the southern city of Criciuma.
Bank robbers there blasted explosives and fired high-calibre weapons at police, in a heist that injured two people and left reams of cash in the streets to be pocketed by locals.
State-controlled lender Banco do Brasil did not immediately comment on the attacks.