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Brazilian police kill 25 people in warlike operation against criminal group

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/31/2021 Terrence McCoy
A government-released image of weapons police say they seized during a raid against a criminal gang Sunday in Brazil that left at least 25 dead. Authorities said the group was planning a bank robbery in Minas Gerais state. © Ministry of Justice and Public Security A government-released image of weapons police say they seized during a raid against a criminal gang Sunday in Brazil that left at least 25 dead. Authorities said the group was planning a bank robbery in Minas Gerais state.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian police killed at least 25 people in a warlike operation against a heavily armed criminal gang on Sunday, marking a violent escalation in the country’s ongoing struggle against sophisticated criminal groups staging elaborate bank heists in southern Brazil.

Authorities said they launched the operation after learning the group was planning another bank robbery in the city of Varginha in Minas Gerais state. Police said the group, which had holed up in two locations in Varginha, opened fire on them shortly after their arrival Sunday morning.

“Our idea was to make arrests, but from the moment they recognized our presence, the fight started,” Aristides Amaral Junior, a highway police spokesperson, told reporters. “They had weapons of war. Tons of gasoline, explosives.”

Authorities said they found an immense stockpile of high-caliber rifles, explosives, bulletproof vests, stolen vehicles and other weapons.

Brazil shocked by warlike police raid that leaves 25 dead in Rio de Janeiro favela

Police said they were trying to prevent another episode of what people here are calling “the new banditry.” It involves shock-and-awe bank heists elaborately planned, well choreographed and executed by well-financed and professionalized criminal groups equipped with the weaponry and gadgetry of war.

The criminal raids, which have been striking even in a country long inured to crime and violence, follow a certain script. Near the end of the month, when the banks are full of cash, dozens of heavily armed gang members storm a midsize city at night, setting off explosives, shooting their weapons into the air and lighting cars on fire. Criminal analysts here say the idea is to overwhelm authorities with an overpowering display of force.

Heavily armed criminal group ties hostages to getaway cars after storming Brazilian city

In late August, the group that police said they attacked on Sunday wreaked havoc in the city of Araçatuba, hitting several banks, blowing up cars and tying hostages to their getaway cars. Three people died in the assault. Police also say the group was also involved in another heist in the city of Criciúma in southern Santa Catarina state. In that attack, at least 30 heavily armed assailants in 10 vehicles assaulted a military police station and held up Banco do Brasil in what authorities said was the largest bank robbery in state history.

“In Araçatuba, the vehicles were painted black,” Rodolfo César Morotti Fernandes, spokesman of an elite Brazilian police force that assisted in the operation, told reporters. “One of the vehicles we apprehended was already being painted black and we found black spray paint, showing the similarity.”

The death toll Sunday underscored the extraordinary violence Brazilian police are willing to use during police operations. In May, police killed at least 25 people in an early-morning police raid on a criminal gang that holds control over a favela in Rio de Janeiro. The incident has led to allegations of summary executions and unlawful killings, which police have denied.

Rio police were ordered to limit favela raids during the pandemic. They’re still killing hundreds of people.

Despite Sunday’s death toll, police described the operation as “precise.”

“Unfortunately, 25 criminals who began the firefight ended up losing their lives,” Amaral Junior said. “But I’d rather them lose their lives than our police officers. … This was an action of war; they used weapons of war.”

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