Brazil bank heist: Armed gang mount fierce assault on city of Criciúma

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media captionArmed robbers managed to escape in a convoy after violently storming a bank in the southern city of Criciúma

Armed men have violently stormed the southern Brazilian city of Criciúma, mounting an assault on a bank.

Shooting started about midnight local time (03:00 GMT) and lasted more than an hour. Footage posted on social media showed men with guns on the streets.

A security guard and a military police officer were injured.

The target of the raid was Banco do Brasil in the centre of Criciúma. The bank has not yet commented on how much money was stolen.

How did the attack unfold?

Residents of the city of approximately 200,000 people first reported hearing gunshots at around midnight.

Military police reported that a fire had been set in a tunnel on the main road leading to the city, presumably to prevent the security forces from sending reinforcements to the town. The police headquarters also came under attack.

image copyrightEPA
image captionThe gang set vehicles alight to barricade streets
image copyrightEPA
image captionMilitary police found some bags full of money that had been left behind

In other parts of the city, at least six people were used as "human shields" by the armed men, who forced them to sit on a pedestrian crossing to block the road.

Residents posted images on social media of what they described as snipers on rooftops.

Mayor Salvaro told radio station Radio Gaúcha that the "bandits" had made their getaway in a convoy of cars.

Footage posted on social media shows a convoy of black cars leaving the town centre in an orderly fashion.

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"I have no idea where they're from but they were professionals. Never in the history of this city have we experienced something like this," Mayor Salvaro said of the gang.

It is not clear how much money the attackers made off with but some of their loot was scattered across a city street. Video posted on social media showed residents rushing to gather some of the bills.

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Police said four residents were detained after they had scooped up more than 800,000 reais ($150,000; £112,000) from the streets.

So far, there are no reports of any of the bank robbers being detained.

What's the bigger picture?

Local media have described the raid as part of a phenomenon they call "New Cangaço", which references a term used to describe the banditry that plagued parts of Brazil in the 1920s and 1930s.

Small and medium-sized cities have been the preferred targets for this new type of banditry.

In 2019, there were 21 bank robberies in the state of São Paulo alone, according to official figures. In the first half of 2020, there had already been 14.

Security expert Guaracy Mingardi told BBC Brasil that these large-scale bank robberies started five years ago. The targets are banks and firms which store and transport valuables.

Dozens of criminals take part in a single raid and many of them are heavily armed with machine guns and sometimes even explosives.

While most of the raids have been carried out in Brazil, there has been at least one instance where a Brazilian gang carried out a spectacular robbery in neighbouring Paraguay.

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