Bank robbers strapped hostages to the top of their getaway vehicles after a raid in the southern Brazilian city of Araçatuba.

Police said that at least three people were killed, among them one suspect.

Officials said more than 50 people took part in the heist, blocking off roads with burning vehicles and placing explosive devices across the city.

Large-scale bank robberies have become more frequent in recent years, with hostages used as human shields.

The mayor of Araçatuba, Dilador Borges, said police had struggled to intervene.

“The police can’t go on the attack, they can’t confront them because there are too many lives on the line,” he told Band TV.

He said he did not know if the robbers had freed the hostages yet but said the security forces had retaken control of the city centre.

Schools will remain closed on Monday and the mayor urged people to stay indoors, warning them of the danger of the explosive devices.

How did the robbery unfold?

A gang of heavily armed men attacked three banks in the centre of Araçatuba in the early hours of Monday local time.

After the robbery, the gang took a number of hostages and surrounded the local military police station. Gang members also blocked key access roads into the city by setting cars alight, local media reported.

Record TV journalist Yuri Macri posted video he said showed two of the getaway cars. The first has a person tied to its roof and another to its hood, while in the second, a person can be seen crouching on the hood.

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CCTV footage posted by another Twitter user shows multiple cars driving through the city, some with people tied to the hoods, while another person can be seen holding up his hands while standing up through the van’s sun roof.

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Many residents reported hearing gunfire and even the sound of explosions.

Police have confirmed the deaths of one suspect and two other people but did not release further information about how they died. Three others were injured.

They also said two suspects had been arrested.

It is not clear how much money the attackers took but some videos purport to show a resident gathering bank notes in the street.

News site G1 reports that the gang used drones to monitor the movements of the police from the air.

It is not the first time Araçatuba has been targeted by bank robbers. In 2017, criminals took control of various strategic spots throughout the city, attacked police stations and blocked roads as part of their robbery of a private security firm.

Raid is part of a growing trend

These well-planned robberies are part of a phenomenon Brazilians call New “Cangaço”, referring to a term first used to describe the banditry that plagued parts of Brazil in the 1920s and 1930s.

Small and medium-sized cities have been the preferred targets.

According to security expert Guaracy Mingardi these large-scale robberies started becoming more frequent around 2015. The targets are banks and firms that store and transport valuables.

Dozens of criminals take part in a single raid, many of them heavily armed with machine guns and sometimes explosives.

While most of the raids have been carried out in Brazil, there has been at least one instance where a Brazilian gang carried out a spectacular robbery in neighbouring Paraguay.

Source: BBC