RIO DE JANEIRO — Heavily armed attackers stormed a small town in southeastern Brazil early Monday in a brutal operation to rob banks, including explosives, charred vehicles and hostages taken. tied to the roof of cars.
The chaos in Araçatuba, a city of some 200,000 in the state of São Paulo, has killed at least three people, police officials said Monday morning. The mayor urged residents to stay at home as police experts tried to defuse 14 improvised bombs installed in the center as part of the attack.
Photos and videos residents have posted on social media showed several cars with hostages strapped to the roof, a chilling tactic that appeared to be designed to prevent police from opening fire on getaway cars.
The attack was the latest attack on a small town in Brazil, carried out by large, well-trained groups of gunmen who have found it relatively easy to overwhelm local security forces while looting banks and businesses at night.
“It was horrific,” Araçatuba mayor Dilador Borges said in a televised interview early Monday, noting that police held fire when they realized the robbers had tied passersby to their cars. “The police did not come any closer because they saw the hostages. The tragedy could have been much worse.”
Captain Alexandre Guedes, a military police officer, said the attackers had placed several explosives in the city in an apparent attempt to jeopardize a police response. The gunmen also used drones to monitor police response in real time, researchers said.
At 10 a.m. Monday, authorities said at least 10 of the suspected gunmen were in custody. Among the three dead were a suspected attacker and two residents, police said.
A resident had his legs amputated after being hit by one of the devices, police said. Captain Guedes said investigators were trying to determine if all the hostages have been released and if there are still any gunmen in Araçatuba.
“We are trying to save lives and defuse these explosives,” he said in a television interview.
Brazilian news channels published photos of bank branches in the city that were in ruins. But there was no estimate of how much the gunmen managed to steal.
The attack was reminiscent of two in the past year that have terrorized similar small towns. Last November, gunmen stormed the city of Araraquara, also in São Paulo state, setting cars on fire in strategic locations to prevent police officers from responding effectively.
The following month, attackers opened fire on a police station in Criciúma, Santa Catarina state, where they stole about $15 million from a regional office of the Bank of Brazil.