With new firepower, brutal bank robbers attack a small town in Brazil
UBERABA, Brazil, September 21 (Reuters) – Shortly before dawn in late June 2019, a team of heavily armed bank robbers rammed a truck at the main Banco do Brasil branch in the Brazilian town of Uberaba. They left the building several hours later with about $5 million in cash.
The thieves were part of a new class of artist robbers, known as “novo cangaco” gangs, terrorizing the interior of Brazil. Using assault rifles and explosives to turn rural towns into war zones, specialist teams have grossed an astonishing $120 million since their emergence in 2015, according to think tank Alpha Bravo Brasil.
In a related article, Reuters explained how laws imposed by President Jair Bolsonaro make it easier for gangsters to obtain assault rifles like those used in Uberaba. Read more
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Prosecutors attribute some of the “novo cangaco” raids to First Capital Command (PCC), Brazil’s most powerful gang. The CCP has deep roots around Uberaba, a wealthy cattle ranching town in the state of Minas Gerais. The 2019 hit, which involved more than two dozen mobsters, was orchestrated by a CCP boss sentenced to nearly 150 years in prison for the theft.
Using court documents, witness statements, security footage and interviews, Reuters has pieced together the high-octane assault in detail for the first time.
About a week before the raid, the thieves rented an apartment near the bank to watch over their target. On June 27, around 3:30 a.m., they struck. After breaking down the bank’s garage door with a Volkswagen truck, a group headed for the vault. Another sprayed the street with machine gun fire.
A few hundred meters away, at the 24-hour Drogasil pharmacy, pharmacist Thales Rezende was reheating a meal in the microwave when he heard what sounded like fireworks. Rezende and two colleagues came out to investigate. All three declined to comment for this story.
Outside, they saw two cars with armed men hanging from the windows, shooting in their direction. Terrified, they hid in the storeroom. A hooded assailant came in and told them to put their phones back. They were then taken to the streets, where about 20 gang members were shooting at transformers and throwing explosives – a typical “novo cangaco” tactic to sow terror in small towns across Brazil.
The assailants said they meant them no harm. “We only want to kill policemen,” recalls Clauber Amaral, a pharmacy worker.
The thieves told them to run into the bank – no big deal or they would be shot – where they cowered while their captors worked to blow up the safe. At around 6 a.m., the thieves emerged from the smoky vault with purses of cash and herded the three men into the back of waiting pickup trucks.
As they drove away, shooting at the cops and throwing road spikes, the robbers told the hostages to stand in the back of the vans and wave their shirts above their heads to avoid the shots police, before releasing them on the outskirts of town. .
In the chaos, one person was killed – a woman hit in the head by a stray bullet as she rode with friends in the back of a taxi taking them home from a club. Two bystanders survived being shot in the leg. City council and fire station buildings were riddled with bullets
“VERY TENSE” NEGOTIATION
Some 50 km from the center of Uberaba, at the Sao Basilio farm, Sirlene Rosa woke up around 3.50 a.m. when her phone started ringing announcing the robbery. She woke up her husband, Claudeci Rosa, and told her son Vinicius, 15, that he would not be going to school in Uberaba today.
Claudeci was not too worried. Uberaba was far away and the farm he ran was on a dirt road, about 5 km from the highway. He fell asleep again. But as dawn approached, messages on Sirelene’s phone suggested the gang were closing in.
Around 6:20 a.m., their dogs started barking. Claudeci heard a vehicle stop.
“Open,” someone shouted. “We’re the federal police, and if you don’t open up, we’ll break down the door.”
Outside, 10 of the robbers stood with assault rifles in each hand. With cops hot on their heels, they searched for new hostages – their ticket to freedom. They put the Rosas in the back of a stolen truck, along with Claudeci’s nephew and his family, and two men from a nearby farm.
They spun but didn’t get far. Around 7 a.m., the police intercepted them. A brief gunfight ensues.
Inside the truck, the situation was difficult. While some attackers begged the hostages for forgiveness, one urged the crew to accept death and mow down the cops.
Lupercio Peres, the former military police chief of Uberaba, recalled a “very tense” negotiation.
“We had hostages being held by heavily armed bandits,” he said. “It was a war scene.”
Finally, around 11 a.m., the gangsters surrendered and freed the seven hostages, including a two-year-old child. Vinicius Rosa and another declined to comment for this story. Reuters could not reach the others.
Authorities eventually recovered just over 100,000 reais ($19,500) of the approximately 25 million reais stolen that night. Most gang members have never been arrested. In 2020, the ten people apprehended were sentenced to prison terms totaling more than 1,500 years.
($1 = 5.1425 reais)
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Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel
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