Robbers struck three banks before taking hostages and using them as human shields to make their escape through the streets of Aracatuba
Officials said that around 50 people took part in the raid that targeted Banco do Brasil, Banco Safra and Caixa Economica banks on Sunday night.
Attackers blocked the police headquarters as well as major roads with burned out cars before striking the banks, escaping with an unknown sum of money. The bank robbers then took hostages, held them at gunpoint and strapped them to the tops and bonnets of their getaway cars.
Video and CCTV footage of the attacks shows people being marched through the streets by two men at gunpoint, hostages strapped to the tops and fronts of moving vehicles, and hostages emerging through the car sunroofs with their hands raised.
As the bank robbers made their escape through the city, they placed explosive devices fitted with infrared proximity sensors along their route to prevent people from following them.
CNN reported that a cyclist was killed by one of these explosive devices.
A woman who said she was kidnapped by the bank robbers told G1 news: “We were returning from a party. They stopped the car and … threw me on the ground. They threw us into a truck, they kidnapped us.
“We were praying all the way. They stopped us at the bank, pointed a gun in my face several times. I had to beg for my life … I had to escape, otherwise they would kill me.
She told the news station that the attackers were heavily armed, pointing AK47 rifles in her face.
“Thank God I managed to run away," ela disse.
The city’s mayor, Dilador Borges, said that police had struggled to pursue the attackers due to the high risk of civilian casualties. “The police can’t go on the attack,” he told Band TV, “they can’t confront them because there are too many lives on the line.”
Mr Borges added that while security forces had retaken control of the city centre, the fate of many of the hostages remained unclear.
Police confirmed that two suspects had been arrested. They added that three people had died in the attack, one suspect and two civilians. Three related injuries were also reported.
Aracatuba remains under lockdown and all schools were closed on Monday, due to the remaining danger of explosive devices throughout the city.
Sunday night’s robbery was similar to a 2017 raid where the headquarters of a cash transport company in Aracatuba was attacked.
Dentro 2017, em volta 30 robbers surrounded the military police headquarters, blocking it with burning cars and shooting at the entrance killing one officer, before making their way to the cash transport company where dynamite was used to blow up a safe.
The robbers then escaped down Aracatuba’s main highway leaving burned trucks along their route to prevent police from giving chase.
A similar attack also took place last July in the city of Botucatu – 177 miles south east of Aracatuba – when 40 armed robbers targeted three bank branches, one of which was entirely destroyed with explosives, before taking hostages. This raid ended in a shootout with local police.
This raid-robbery attack style is not uncommon in the state of Sao Paolo, where both Aracatuba and Botucatu are located. Local officials believe the attacks are organised by a criminal organisation known as First Command of the Capital or PCC.
The group typically targets small or medium-sized cities, where banks have cash reserves, but police forces are not to be particularly well equipped. Their attacks, which often use explosives to break into bank vaults, use force to overpower local police headquarters and block major roads using burned out vehicles to ensure a smooth getaway.
Officials say the raids began about six years ago, and have continued throughout the state with increasing frequency.