RIO DE JANEIRO — A group of criminals with high-powered rifles stormed a city in Brazil’s southern Parana state late Sunday night, attempting a brazen robbery and engaging police in a shootout.
“The quick and courageous operation of our team frustrated the assault,” Gov. Carlos Massa Ratinho Junior was quoted as saying in the statement. “Our security forces are hunting those bandits to give a quick response to the population.”
Guarapuava, a city of 184,000 people, is about halfway between state capital Curitiba and the triple border of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The robbers attacked a police battalion and set a large fire at its gate in an effort to prevent security forces from responding.
Brazil has witnessed several well-coordinated robberies in recent years exhibiting a similar modus operandi: targeting a small- or medium-sized city, taking hostages and choking road access to facilitate the robbery and escape.
The most recent such attack took place last August in Araçatuba, a city of similar size in Sao Paulo state. After ransacking two bank branches, the criminals in Araçatuba drove away with hostages clinging to the roofs and hoods of their cars to deter police from firing at the getaway convoy.
Video from Guarapuava posted to social media showed a pair of residents standing in the street with their arms outstretched, apparently acting as human shields.
The escaped criminals remain at large. Brazil’s Justice and Public Security Minister Anderson Torres said on Twitter that reinforcements from the federal police and federal highway police were en route.