Police in Brazil killed at least 25 suspects as part of an unprecedented offensive against heavily armed bank robbers whose brazen heists have brought several major cities to a standstill.
The alleged criminals were gunned down in the early hours of Sunday in the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais, where police claimed they had been poised to unleash an attack.
A report in the local O Tempo newspaper said the killings took place at two farmhouses in Varginha, a city about 395km north-west of Rio de Janeiro.
“This operation … will go down in history,” the Minas Gerais state security secretary, Rogério Greco, told local radio.
The federal highway police, which took part in the mission, said the group had “a veritable military arsenal” including assault rifles, .50-caliber machine guns, explosives and bulletproof vests.
Layla Brunella, the spokesperson for Minas Gerais’s military police force, said the alleged robbers belonged to Brazil’s “modern-day cangaço”
In December 2020, gangsters laid siege to the southern city of Criciúma, torching vehicles, kidnapping government employees, blowing up a bank and engaging in a two-hour gun battle as the mayor implored residents to stay off the streets.
In August there was a similar attack in the city of Araçatuba in São Paulo state, as black-clad criminals raided banks before fleeing with hostages strapped to the roofs of their getaway vehicles.
Police claimed that those killed on Sunday had been plotting a similar assault in the coming days before they were tracked down with the help of intelligence.
Supporters of Brazil’s rightwing president, Jair Bolsonaro, celebrated the shootings in bellicose terms.
Criminals should “die in the streets like cockroaches”, Bolsonaro declared shortly after taking office.
Last year police killed more than 6,400 people, the overwhelming majority young black men. Almost 200 police officers were killed, a 10% rise compared with the previous year.