Criminals Set Fire to Cars to Delay Police, Tie Hostages to Vehicles After Robbing 2 Banks

Criminals who robbed two banks in Araçatuba, a Brazilian city northwest of São Paulo state, early Monday set fire to cars and tied civilian hostages to vehicles to deter law enforcement from pursuing them, the Associated Press reported. There were dozens of criminals, equipped with explosives and high-powered rifles, and at least 10 cars involved in the organized heist.

The criminals strategically burned vehicles to slow down police officers and reportedly watched the progress of law enforcement responding to the robberies using a drone, the AP reported. They also took hostages whilst robbing the two bank branches, some of whom they positioned on top of or inside their cars to dissuade law enforcement from firing gunshots while they attempted to escape.

Some hostages were forced to hold onto the roofs or hoods of the cars as the criminals drove. One stood with his hands raised and the upper portion of his body sticking out of a sunroof, the AP reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Brazil Bank Robbery
A robbery in Brazil's Araçatuba Monday is the latest in a pattern of increasing heists over the past couple years. People look into a bank which robbers struck just after midnight, in Cameta, Para State, in northern Brazil, on December 2, 2020. Jurandir Viana/AFP via Getty Images

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.

At least three people were killed in the clash, two of whom were civilians, authorities said in a morning press conference. One was a local businessman who went to the location to film the attack and the other a delivery boy, per preliminary information. The third person killed was a suspect, found in his car. Six others were injured.

Large-scale bank heists have become more frequent in recent years, with hostages used as human shields. In July last year, a group of criminals stormed Botucatu in Sao Paulo state, and, over two days in December, two cities on opposite sides of the country. Araçatuba was itself the site of a similar attack, in 2017.

"Araçatuba was shaken by highly dangerous criminals who fired thousands of shots," Colonel Rodrigo Arena, the police commander in the region, told reporters.

Arena said that three suspects had been arrested and Federal Police are taking over investigations, he added. Sao Paulo's public security secretariat said in a statement that 380 police officers were trying to locate the escaped criminals.

Araçatuba's mayor, Dilador Borges, said earlier Monday morning 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.

Brazilian Police
Criminals who robbed two banks in a Brazilian city northwest of São Paulo state early Monday set fire to cars and tied civilian hostages to vehicles to deter law enforcement from pursuing them. Police officers stand guard outside a police station attacked during a bank robbery just after midnight in Cameta, Para State, in northern Brazil, on December 2, 2020. Jurandir Viana/AFP via Getty Images