Crime in Brazil is prevalent, with a homicide rate ranging between 25 and 31 per 100,000 inhabitants over the last several years, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In fact, Brazil has some of the highest numbers of intentional homicides in the world.
Overnight on Tuesday, dozens of criminals armed with rifles invaded a city in Southern Brazil as they robbed a local bank.
The hooded men took over the streets of Criciuma in the state of Santa Catarina and held some local residents hostage while taking over the city of some 220,000 people. The takeover began around midnight and lasted for a couple of hours, AP reported, with the criminals robbing the Bank of Brazil branch in the city.
“It was a surreal scene,” Clésio Salvaro, the city’s mayor, said in a televised interview on Tuesday morning. “The city was left in a state of panic.”
Anselmo Cruz, the head of the state police’s robbery and kidnapping department, told local Brazilian channel Globo News that there were at least 30 criminals in 10 cars and that they blocked access points within the city to prevent police from responding. The assailants also deployed explosives during the robbery to prevent police reinforcements from arriving quickly.
An altercation between Santa Catarina’s military police and the gunmen took place in the city center. Two people, a security guard and a police officer, were wounded. The police officer, who was shot in the abdomen, remained hospitalized in serious condition on Tuesday.
“It was an unprecedented action for the state. There was never anything with this scope, this violence,” Cruz said.
“The criminals clearly planned, prepared and invested beforehand. This points to a group that came from outside. We don’t have criminals with this profile in Santa Catarina,” Cruz told reporters, according to the New York Times.
According to AP, the Bank of Brazil branch in Criciuma revealed in a Tuesday statement that it will remain closed. However, it did not provide any information on the amount of money stolen.
The assailants’ vehicles were located in a neighboring municipality by police, Cruz confirmed. Some of the cars’ interiors had bloodstains, suggesting that the gunmen had been struck by police bullets.
Officials from Santa Catarina, neighboring states and the federal government are all currently searching for the gunmen.