A shootout between police and bank robbers attempting to blow up ATMs has killed 14 people, including six hostages.
Most of the deaths occurred when police opened fire on the robbers at the two bank branches on the main street in Milagres, a small town in north-eastern Brazil, a statement by the governor’s office said.
Five of the alleged gang members died in the night-time shootout shortly after 2am on Friday, two died in hospital of bullet wounds and an eighth was gunned down in a police pursuit, it said.
Six people who had been taken hostage on a local highway that the gang blocked with a trailer truck also died in the shootout, the statement said. It said three suspects have been arrested by police.
Local media reported that five of the dead hostages were from the same family, including two children aged 14 and 13.
The attempted robbery was interrupted by a police unit that had been tracking a gang responsible for similar bank robberies in the area.
The gang was said to be staging simultaneous pre-dawn assaults on the banks.
The secretary for security in the state of Ceara, Andre Costa, said he understood that “the criminals killed the hostages and the police killed the criminals”.
“A heavily armed group arrived in the town in the early hours and went to the centre where they tried to commit the crime,” a statement from his office said.
“There was an exchange of fire between the suspects and police.”
Various weapons and explosives as well as three vehicles used in the bank assaults were recovered.
According to the G1 news website, the robbers had blocked a street with a truck and stopped the car carrying the family, which included relatives who had just arrived on a flight from Sao Paulo to celebrate Christmas with them.
G1 reported that the robbers “executed” the hostages when police turned up. It said some of the gang managed to escape.
Shaken by the violence, the municipality of Milagres suspended most of its activities on Friday and asked residents to stay at home “until order is restored.”
Brazil is one of the most violent countries in the world, suffering nearly 64,000 murders last year – a homicide rate of 30.8 per 100,000 inhabitants that is three times higher than the level the United Nations considers to be endemic violence.
On January 1, a far-right politician promising a relentless crackdown on crime, Jair Bolsonaro, will become Brazil’s new president following his election in October.
Reuters and News Corp Australia