28 Arrested in Brazil Bank Heist

Federal police on Friday arrested 28 people accused of belonging to an organized crime gang linked to one of the world's largest bank robberies.

Federal police said those arrested were part of the First Capital Command gang, which is accused of stealing US$70 million from the Brazilian Central Bank in the northeastern city of Fortaleza in August 2005.

Although police earlier said that they were investigating a connection between First Capital Command and the Fortaleza robbery, Friday's statement was the first time police explicitly linked the heist to the notorious organized crime gang, known here by it's Portuguese initials PCC.

Anchored in Sao Paulo prisons, the PCC is led by hardened criminals who issue their orders via cell phones and instructions given to their attorneys and visiting relatives. Authorities say the group is behind a series of attacks against police and civilian targets that have killed more than 200 people since May.

According to the federal police, the gang members were arrested in a rented house in Porto Alegre, 700 miles south of Rio de Janeiro.

Police said the gang members had dug a tunnel toward two nearby banks that was 93 yards long and 28 inches wide when they were arrested.

Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz Bastos told reporters at federal police headquarters in Sao Paulo that the arrests were "a very strong blow" against the gang "because it struck them in a vital area, which was the final cause of the crime, the money."

Federal police said they were looking for gang members in 10 other Brazilian states and expected to make more arrests.

The Fortaleza heist was the biggest in history until February, when thieves stole more than US$90 million from a security warehouse in London.

CountryWatch: Brazil