Brazil Bank Heist Update as Armed Gang Takes Hostages in Cametá Attack

Brazil has faced two consecutive nights of violence as armed gang men seized hostages and stormed banks during separate incidents in the cities of Cametá and Criciúma.

An armed gang took to the streets of Cametá, in the north of the country in the early hours of Wednesday to rob a bank, according to early reports. It is unclear whether the situation is ongoing.

Several hostages were reportedly taken and the city's mayor Waldoli Valenti said on Facebook that a young man has died.

The overnight attack in Cametá appears to be almost identical to the storming of a bank in the southern city of Criciúma in the early hours of Tuesday, according to Brazilian broadcaster Globo News.

brazil bank robbery
A police officer stands guard outside the bank which robbers struck just midnight, in Criciuma, Brazil, on December 1. A group of 30 armed criminals entered a bank in Criciuma, Santa Catarina State, southern Brazil, taking hostages, blocking roads and exchanging gunfire with police. GUILHERME CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images

The media outlet said the gang that attacked Cametá carried high-caliber weapons and explosives, and captured hostages in bars before using them as shields to move around the city streets, like the assailants in Criciúma.

But there is currently no suggestion that the two incidents are linked.

The attacks come as the latest in a sting of major bank robberies in Brazil over the last five years, according to the BBC.

According to official figures cited by the broadcaster, there have been 14 bank raids in the state of São Paulo so far this year.

The recent heists resemble the wave of robberies in the late 1990s, dubbed "New Cangaço". The cangaço were gangs of bandits who roamed Brazil's northeastern hinterlands in the 1920s and 1930s under the leadership of a legendary highwayman called Lampião, the broadcaster said.

Security expert Guaracy Mingardi told BBC Brasil that these new large-scale bank robberies started five years ago, targeting banks and firms, preferably in small and medium-sized cities, which store and transport valuables.

brazil bank robbery
Police look at equipment suspected of being used to make explosives at the scene of a bank robbery in Criciuma, Brazil, on December 1, 2020. A group of 30 heavily armed criminals entered a bank in Criciuma, Santa Catarina State, southern Brazil, taking hostages, blocking roads and exchanging gun fire with police. GUILHERME CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images

The Folha de São Paulo newspaper also said these attacks are increasingly common in Brazil, highlighting recent raids in cities such as Araraquara, Botucatu and Ourinhos.

What happened in Cametá?

A gang of armed men reportedly stormed Cametá, a city in Para state, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, attacking a bank and taking hostages.

Gunshots can be heard in video footage posted to social media with one clip appearing to show a large group of hostages being led through the streets.

Security forces have been sent to the scene although, it is currently unclear which bank in Cametá is being targeted or whether the incident is ongoing.

The governor of Para state, Helder Barbalho, said on Twitter in the early hours: "I am already in contact with the state public security summit following the measures that are being taken in this episode, in the municipality of Cametá.

Já estou em contato com a cúpula da segurança pública do Estado acompanhando as providências que estão sendo tomadas neste episódio, no município de Cametá.

— Helder Barbalho (@helderbarbalho) December 2, 2020

Mais um vídeo desesperador de Cametá, no Pará, onde as informações de moradores postadas em redes sociais dão conta de um assalto das proporções do que aconteceu em Criciúma ontem. Dezenas de assaltantes fortemente armados fizeram moradores de reféns, que são usados como escudos. pic.twitter.com/Y3HPnNcDJq

— De Lucca 🏳️‍🌈 (@delucca) December 2, 2020

Parece que está rolando outro assalto com armas de grosso calibre, desta vez em Cametá, no interior do Pará. pic.twitter.com/ToaRiRganA

— De Lucca 🏳️‍🌈 (@delucca) December 2, 2020

"We will do our best to ensure that peace is resumed as soon as possible and that the criminals are arrested."

The city's mayor Waldoli Valenti said on Facebook that a young man has died.

He wrote: "In this difficult time our city is going through. I ask God to protect you all. Garrisons of the military police tactical forces are already in Camet á and we trust the security forces of our state to regain peace and security in Camet á. Besides holding everyone involved in this sad occurrence accountable.

"Our city has always been peaceful and I ask everyone to stay in their homes.
We also pray to God to comfort the family of the young man who lost his life in a cowardly way."

What happened in Criciúma?

A group of around 30 bandits targeted a branch of Banco Do Brasil in Criciúma's center from about midnight local time on Tuesday with the attack lasting about an hour and 45 minutes, according to Globo News.

The broadcaster reported that six workers from the Traffic and Transport Department (DTT) were taken hostage during the assault.

The hostages were seen on footage broadcast by Globo News, bound and shirtless, sitting in the pedestrian strip a few meters from the bank branch, presumably to hinder police action. They were reportedly released a couple hours later without injury.

The assailants blocked access to the city — including with burning vehicles — to prevent police reinforcements from responding swiftly, fired hundreds of shots and deployed explosives, Military Police of Santa Catarina said on Twitter.

December 1: People take money scattered on the floor after a mega robbery in the city of Criciúma - Brazil. Despite the tragedy, Christmas will be better for many people in need. The gang looks specialized and was armed with Bazooka.pic.twitter.com/4UTiavPir7

— Zel Florizel🇧🇷 (@ZellFlorizel) December 1, 2020

Assaltantes estão saíndo de Criciúma nesse exato momento pic.twitter.com/GGF8WiqGjv

— Raphael Victor (@RaphaelVictorRV) December 1, 2020

🚨 OCORRÊNCIA EM CRICIÚMA 🚨

Por volta das 23h de segunda, 30, diversos criminosos fazendo uso de armamento pesado, explosivos e coletes balísticos, utilizando reféns, efetuaram um assalto em uma agência bancária de Criciúma.

Siga a linha 👇 pic.twitter.com/ZS5WUEMd2O

— POLÍCIA MILITAR DE SANTA CATARINA (@pmscoficial) December 1, 2020

The police also said: "The assailants exchanged shots with military police in the central area and in the 9th Military Police Battalion (BPM).

"The criminal action resulted in 2 targeted people identified, one of whom was a vigilante and a military policeman, shot in the abdomen," they said, adding that the officer has had surgery and is in serious condition.

In a series of updates, they wrote: "The Military Police is engaged in a large organized operation since dawn for a prompt response in the searches of criminals," and "The vehicles used for the crime were found and had bloodstains, indicating that criminals were shot by police. Four people have already been arrested."

The police then announced that the soldier who had been shot is called Jeferson Luiz Esmeraldino, 32, and remains in the ICU under observation.

It is not clear how much money the attackers took but videos posted on social media appeared to show that some of their loot had escaped onto the street as residents rushed to gather some of the bills.