Criciúma, Brazil, Attacked by Armed Gang, Police Say

Armed men laid siege to a southeast Brazilian city early Tuesday, robbing bank branches, taking hostages and shooting at least two people, according to the mayor and the police.

A military police commander said a police officer was among those shot. Their condition was not immediately clear.

The siege began just before midnight Monday and continued into Tuesday morning, lasting about an hour. Clésio Salvaro, the mayor of Criciúma, said in a post on Twitter just before 2 a.m. local time that the city, which is on the Atlantic coast, was under attack, and ordered residents to stay at home.

“Criciúma is the target of a major assault,” he wrote. “Together with the military authorities and security forces, we continue to monitor and follow the facts. Stay at home.”

Mr. Salvaro told Radio Gaúcha that three or four sites had been looted by men he called “bandits.”

“I have no idea where they are from, but they are specialized,” he said. “We have never experienced this in the history of the city.”

Mr. Salvaro added that about six people had been taken hostage, but they were later freed. “I talked to them. They are well. The information we have is that everyone was released,” Mr. Salvaro said in an interview with GloboNews, the largest news outlet in Brazil.

He said that the city’s protocol was not to shoot back at the attackers, in order to protect the population. He also said the police planned to follow the bandits in order to retrieve the money. He did not say how much had been taken.

Around 6 on Tuesday morning, four people believed to be involved in the heist had been arrested, and the police had recovered some of the money the attackers had stolen, local reports said.

Residents on social media reported hearing loud gunfire, according to Globo. Video footage online showed people grabbing what appeared to be cash off the streets. On Twitter, others reported that the attackers had bazookas and bombs and were setting fire to buildings, in what they described as a scene resembling a horror film.

The Military Police of Santa Catarina — a state agency with numerous battalions — were called in and were seeking reinforcements to confront the group, according to local reports.

Cristian Dimitri Andrade, a Military Police commander in Criciúma, told reporters that the attackers were “several men with rifles, long weapons,” and described them as “an organized crime gang, which specializes in bank robbery.” He said two people, including a police officer, had been shot.

“We are receiving information from residents who send us photos and videos,” he told Engeplus, a local news outlet.

The police could not immediately be reached for comment.

Criciúma, with a population of more than 133,000 as of 2010, is in the state of Santa Catarina and is considered the center of Brazil’s ceramic and floor tile industry.

Bank robberies in Brazil, which has among the worst crime and homicide rates in the world, are hardly uncommon. In recent years, gangs have attempted to dig their way to millions through tunnels, have detonated dynamite to rob bank branches and have blown up cash machines in attempts to extract money.

Yan Zhuang contributed reporting.

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