Brazilian city seized by armed bandits, bank looted

Shots rang out across city of some 220,000

Dozens of criminals armed with assault rifles invaded a city in southern Brazil overnight and took control of the streets as they assaulted a local bank.

Video from residents that was broadcast on the Globo television network showed hooded men dressed in black walking the streets of Criciúma in the state of Santa Catarina, and locals being held hostage. Shots rang out across the city of some 220,000 people.

There were at least 30 criminals in 10 cars, Anselmo Cruz, the head of the state police's robbery and kidnapping department, told television network Globo News. They blocked access points to the city to prevent police reinforcements from responding swiftly.

Military police officers carry a bag filled with money left behind by armed bank robbers, in Criciuma, Santa Catarina state, Brazil, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Dozens of criminals armed with assault rifles invaded the city in southern Brazil overnight and took control of the streets as they assaulted a local bank. (Guilherme Hahn/Futura Press via AP)

Military police officers carry a bag filled with money left behind by armed bank robbers, in Criciuma, Santa Catarina state, Brazil, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Dozens of criminals armed with assault rifles invaded the city in southern Brazil overnight and took control of the streets as they assaulted a local bank. (Guilherme Hahn/Futura Press via AP)

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“It was an unprecedented action for the state. There was never anything with this scope, this violence,” Cruz said Tuesday.

The takeover began around midnight and lasted roughly two hours. Images on Globo showed a bank vault with a square-shaped hole in it and a convoy of criminals’ vehicles as they made their escape. Bills were scattered across the ground in one area of the city.

Police later located the attackers' vehicles in a neighboring municipality, Cruz said.

State-run Bank of Brazil said in an emailed statement that its branch in Criciuma will remain closed and that it doesn't provide information regarding the amount of money taken. It didn't respond to an Associated Press request for comment about local media reports the branch was a regional treasury.

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The brazen robbery resembles another that took place in July in the city of Botucatu, in Sao Paulo state. There, around 30 armed men blew up a bank branch, took residents hostage, and exchanged gunfire with police officers before making their getaway.

Criciuma's Mayor Clésio Salvaro took to Twitter last night while the terror was still unfolding to warn locals of the “robbery of great proportions, by very well-prepared thieves.”

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“As mayor of Criciúma, I ask that you stay home, don’t leave home, exercise all precaution,” Salvaro said in a video he posted just before 2 a.m. local time. “Tell your friends and families. Let the police do their job.”

Two injuries were reported during the robbery.