Brazilian Bank Robbers Used Hostages As Human Shields on Their Getaway Cars

Videos of the escape showed the thieves marching hostages by gunpoint, shooting off heavy weapons, and bomb explosions.
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A hostage clings onto the roof of the getaway car after a deadly bank heist in Brazil. (Screenshot via Twitter @yurimacri)

Bank robbers in Brazil used hostages as human shields on their getaway cars in a daring and deadly escape after a series of heists that would make the movie versions in Heat and The Dark Knight seem quaint.

An estimated 20 gunmen carried out three nighttime bank heists on August 30 in the mid-sized central Brazilian city of Araçatuba, according to local news reports.

Videos of the incident show heavily armed men dressed in black marching several hostages down the street at gunpoint, followed by other videos of the thieves driving away from the scene of the crime with hostages clinging to the roofs and hoods of their cars in an apparent attempt to stop gunfire from pursuing police.

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The coordinated attacks threw the city into chaos as reports of shootouts and burning vehicles in strategic locations appeared almost simultaneously. In a news conference, local police commander Col. Rodrigo Arena said that “Araçatuba was shaken by highly dangerous criminals.”

Three people died in the attacks—a hostage, a citizen who tried to live stream the escape and was caught in the crossfire, and one alleged bank robber. Six others were injured in the attack and three suspects have been arrested, Arena said. 

Local media identified the alleged dead bank robber as a member of one of the country’s most feared gangs, the First Capital Command, known as PCC for its Portuguese acronym. The group has a long history of bank robberies and has expanded into neighboring countries. In 2017, the gang was believed to be behind the robbery of $11.7 million from an armored car company in Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. The robbers fled in speedboats across the Parana River to Brazil. 

The robbers in Araçatuba apparently used drones to monitor police movements during the attacks and placed bombs around the city equipped with motion or heat sensors programmed to explode when people got close. A cyclist was seriously injured by one bomb as he rode past, leading to the amputation of both his feet. Police reportedly later disarmed roughly 40 bombs placed around the city.

On Tuesday, police arrested one of the alleged masterminds of the attack, although they have yet to announce his identity.

Bank robberies have become somewhat commonplace in Brazil in recent years. In December, large gangs of gunmen raided banks in two different cities on opposite sides of the country in two other deadly heists. It's unclear if those December robberies were coordinated or not. 

In July 2020, an estimated 30 armed men blew up a bank branch in the city of Botucatu while simultaneously robbing several others. The bank robbers reportedly racked a local police station with gunfire and set vehicles ablaze while escaping.