Small Wars Journal

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 33: Brazilian Gangs (Quadrilhas) Wage Urban Bank Raids in a New ‘Cangaço’  

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 10:15pm

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 33: Brazilian Gangs (Quadrilhas) Wage Urban Bank Raids in a New ‘Cangaço’  

John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz, and Robert J. Bunker

Armed gunmen attacked banks in two Brazilian cities on Monday 30 November 2020 through Tuesday  1 December 2020.  The attacks occurred in Criciúma, Santa Catarina state in southern Brazil and Cametá, Pará state in Brazil’s north.  The attackers are believed to be unrelated but share common tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).  Brazilian media refers to the style of attacks as the ‘New Cangaço’ referring to historic banditry in the 1920s-1930s.

EOD Tech

EOD tech examines explosives used in Criciúma urban bank raid.

Source: Policía Militar Santa Catarina (Notícias), 2 December 2020.

Key Information: Tom Phillips, “‘Under siege’: armed bank robbers launch assault on Brazilian city.” The Guardian. 1 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/01/armed-bank-robbers-assault-brazilian-city-criciuma-siege:

Bank robbers armed with military-grade weapons have laid siege to a city in southern Brazil, torching vehicles, kidnapping government workers, blowing up a bank and engaging in a two-hour gun battle as the mayor begged residents to stay indoors…

…Speaking to the GloboNews television network, Salvaro [mayor of Criciúma] said that after driving into town the criminals had “completely besieged” the city centre, blocking all entry points, including a tunnel linking Criciúma with a neighbouring city. Six city hall workers who had been painting zebra crossings at the time of the action were briefly held hostage. Spike strips were reportedly used to hinder the police response…

…Some call such raids a 21st-century version of the cangaço – gangs of Robin Hood-style bandits who roamed Brazil’s north-eastern hinterlands in the early part of the last century under the leadership of a legendary highwayman called Lampião.

The “new cangaço” is thought to be largely the work of Brazil’s most powerful organised crime group, the Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital).

Key Information: “Brazil: Gangs carry out brazen bank robberies.” Deutsche Welle (DW). 1 December 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/brazil-gangs-carry-out-brazen-bank-robberies/a-55792343:

A group of heavily armed bandits carried out a coordinated attack on banks in the small city of Cameta in Brazil’s northern Para state early Wednesday, local media reported.

Police cited in the reports said the assailants took at least 15 people hostage and exchanged fire with police as they targeted Banco do Brasil, Caixa, Santander and Banco do Para.

The attack on Cameta bore similarities to another raid on banks that was carried out early Tuesday in the city of Criciuma, in southern Santa Catarina state. In that assault, dozens of gunmen took over the streets and battled police for two hours, taking hostages as they attacked banks with explosives.  

Anselmo Cruz, head of the Santa Catarina’s police robbery and kidnapping department, told a news conference that the well-planned operation had involved 10 cars and at least 30 bandits armed with assault rifles.

Key Information: Xiu Ying, “Gang Abandons Money After Robbery in Criciuma SC; Four Arrested With R$810,000.” Rio Times. 2 December 2020, https://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/brazil/life-brazil/gang-abandons-money-after-robbery-and-shooting-in-santa-catarina-state-four-arrested-with-r810000/:

Four men were arrested for stealing the banknotes abandoned by the criminals. According to the Civil Police, they were found in an apartment with over R$810,000 (US$162,000) in two suitcases. Two 24-year-olds and two others aged between 27 and 28 should be referred to the Regional Prison.  Furthermore, the police found approximately R$300,000 scattered on the streets.

Key Information: “Quadrilha invade Criciúma (SC) para assaltar agências bancárias; população relata terror.” Folha de S. Paulo. 1 December 2020, https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/cotidiano/2020/12/quadrilha-invade-criciuma-sc-para-assaltar-agencias-bancarias-populacao-relata-terror.shtml?utm_source=mail&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=compmail:

Uma quadrilha de assaltantes provocou pânico e deixou Criciúma (SC) sitiada na madrugada desta terça-feira (1).  A cidade localizada no sul de Santa Catarina foi invadida por homens fortemente armardos que fecharam acessos por meio de barreiras, trocaram tiros com a polícia e fizeram reféns. Há relatos de tiros contra um batalhão da Polícia Militar, veículos incendiados e explosivos espalhados pela cidade.[1]

Key Information: Caroline Borges, “Quadrilha abandona dinheiro após assalto e tiroteio em Criciúma; quatro homens são presos com R$ 810 mil.” G1 (Globo). 1 December 2020, https://g1.globo.com/sc/santa-catarina/noticia/2020/12/01/quadrilha-abandona-dinheiro-apos-assalto-e-tiroteio-em-criciuma-quatro-pessoas-foram-presas-com-notas.ghtml:

Resumo:

  • Cerca de 30 pessoas encapuzadas assaltaram uma agência do Banco do Brasil no Centro de Criciúma às 23h50 de segunda-feira. A ação durou 1 hora e 45 minutos.
  • Pessoas foram feitas reféns e cercadas por criminosos; houve bloqueios e barreiras para conter a chegada da polícia.
  • Um PM e um vigilante ficaram feridos. Ninguém morreu.
  • Criminosos fugiram, e parte do dinheiro ficou espalhada pelas ruas. Valor levado e abandonado não foi calculado ainda. Quatro moradores foram detidos após recolherem R$ 810 mil que ficaram jogados no chão devido a explosão durante o assalto.
  • Criminosos também deixaram 30 quilos de explosivos para trás. Polícia não sabe o total utilizado.
  • 10 carros usados no assalto foram apreendidos em um milharal de uma propriedade privada em Nova Veneza, a noroeste de Criciúma.[2]

Key Information: Anaisa Catucci and Caroline Borges, “Após assalto e tiroteio, grupo deixa Criciúma em comboio: ‘Cena surreal’, diz prefeito.” G1 (Globo). 1 December 2020, https://g1.globo.com/sc/santa-catarina/noticia/2020/12/01/apos-sequencia-de-assaltos-e-tiroteio-grupo-deixa-criciuma-em-comboio-cena-surreal-diz-prefeito.ghtml:

Agora, que eles foram embora, a polícia toda do Estado de Santa Catarina, está mobilizada. A inteligência toda da Polícia Militar e da Polícia Civil, todos estão mobilizados para capturar esses marginais que trouxeram esse medo, esse terror para nossa cidade de um povo que sabe mesmo é trabalhar. Agora, nos colocou todos em pânico. Uma cena surreal”, disse.[3]

Third Generation Gangs Analysis

Brazil is facing a new era of brigandage as heavily armed and well-organized gangs conduct brazen bank robberies.  In this latest sequence of events, the actors conducted two separate, but tactically similar attacks beginning late Monday night, 30 November 2020 through shortly after midnight on Tuesday, 1 December 2020.  In the attack in Cametá, Pará the gunmen took hostages and reportedly killed one when they targeted a branch of the Banco do Brasil.  The assault lasted approximately 90 minutes and the offenders fled in a vehicle convoy and then by boat on the Tocantins River.[4]  

Explosives bank Raid

Explosives used in Criciúma urban bank raid.

Source: Policía Militar Santa Catarina (Notícias), 2 December 2020.

In Criciúma, Santa Catarina the brigands raided another branch of the Banco do Brasil around midnight.  The attack lasted approximately 1-2 hours and the gunmen employed blockades, took hostages, and used explosives to conduct the bank robbery.  One blockade utilized a fire set in a tunnel on a main road.  The city’s police headquarters was also attacked.  The offenders fled in an organized convoy.[5]  The attack in Criciúma was likened to a siege[6] with the actors using ‘military-grade’ weapons, including .50 caliber rifles, torching vehicles, and taking hostages.[7][8]  In the Criciúma raid the offenders exchanged gunfire with military police officers from the 9th Military Police Battalion (BPM) in the downtown area.  The criminal action resulted in two people being targeted, a guard and a military police officer, who was shot in the abdomen.[9]

According to Folha de São Paulo this modus operandi or TTP is increasingly seen in attacks throughout Brazil, “pointing to similarly spectacular assaults in the interior of São Paulo state in cities such as Araraquara, Botucatu and Ourinhos.”[10]  The BBC noted that:

Local media have described the raids as part of a phenomenon they call “New Cangaço”, which references a term 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. In 2019, there were 21 bank robberies in the state of São Paulo alone, according to official figures. In the first half of 2020, there had already been 14.[11]

This style attack has proliferated throughout Brazil.  For example, last year gangsters brandishing high-powered rifles and equipped with ballistic vests and several kilos of dynamite conducted a co-ordinated early morning attack in Guararema, a town in greater São Paulo.  The gang involved pulled up in front of the local police station and raided the adjoining Banco do Brasil.  The same night a Banco Santander Brasil branch two blocks away was also raided.  In both cases dynamite was used to breech the banks’ ATMs and vaults.[12]

Officials suspect the Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Capital Command or PCC) is behind these latest bank raids in Criciúma and Cametá.[13]  Earlier this year, on 30 July 2020, a violent bank raid in Botucatu, 235 km from São Paulo, occurred near dawn when 40 armed and masked bandits attacked at least three bank branches in the city.  Explosives destroyed one of the banks.  Hostages were also taken and a shootout with police occurred. Investigations indicate that the actions are planned and also carried out by members of criminal factions (facções), mainly from the PCC.[14]  

In April 2017, a similar spectacular bank robbery in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay occurred.  This ‘mega-robbery’ or ‘mega-assaulto’ which was documented in “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 4” involved 50-60 armed gangsters.  The armed commando employed grenades, explosives (included remotely detonated vehicles), blockades, .50 caliber rifles, and shootouts with the police, as well as a riverine escape from Paraguay to Brazil.[15]  The latter being a similar TTP to that used in the recent Cametá, Pará robbery.

These complex urban raids are consistent with the TTPs employed and refined by the PCC.  The PCC is a robust ‘prison-street gang complex’ with evolved territorial and third generation gang (3Gen Gang) characteristics.  It is expected that the PCC will continue to employ and refine urban raids to further their goals. This sustained wave of brigandage (or banditry) is characterized as a new 'Cangaço.’

Sources

Caroline Borges, “Quadrilha abandona dinheiro após assalto e tiroteio em Criciúma; quatro homens são presos com R$ 810 mil.” G1 (Globo). 1 December 2020, https://g1.globo.com/sc/santa-catarina/noticia/2020/12/01/quadrilha-abandona-dinheiro-apos-assalto-e-tiroteio-em-criciuma-quatro-pessoas-foram-presas-com-notas.ghtml.

“Brazil bank heist: Armed men take hostages in attack on Cametá.” BBC News, 2 December 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55155377.

“Brazil: Gangs carry out brazen bank robberies.” Deutsche Welle (DW). 1 December 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/brazil-gangs-carry-out-brazen-bank-robberies/a-55792343.

Anaisa Catucci and Caroline Borges, “Após assalto e tiroteio, grupo deixa Criciúma em comboio: ‘Cena surreal’, diz prefeito.” G1 (Globo). 1 December 2020, https://g1.globo.com/sc/santa-catarina/noticia/2020/12/01/apos-sequencia-de-assaltos-e-tiroteio-grupo-deixa-criciuma-em-comboio-cena-surreal-diz-prefeito.ghtml.

Cabo Rodrigo Costa, “Criciúma: unidades especializadas da PM prosseguem no rastro dos criminosos.” Policía Militar Santa Catarina (Notícias). 2 December 2020, https://www.pm.sc.gov.br/noticias/criciuma-unidades-especializadas-da-pm-prosseguem-no-rastro-dos-criminosos.

Tom Phillips, “'Under siege': armed bank robbers launch assault on Brazilian city,” The Guardian. 1 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/01/armed-bank-robbers-assault-brazilian-city-criciuma-siege.

“Quadrilha invade Criciúma (SC) para assaltar agências bancárias; população relata terror.” Folha de S. Paulo. 1 December 2020, https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/cotidiano/2020/12/quadrilha-invade-criciuma-sc-para-assaltar-agencias-bancarias-populacao-relata-terror.shtml?utm_source=mail&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=compmail.

Xiu Ying, “Gang Abandons Money After Robbery in Criciuma SC; Four Arrested With R$810,000.” Rio Times. 2 December 2020, https://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/brazil/life-brazil/gang-abandons-money-after-robbery-and-shooting-in-santa-catarina-state-four-arrested-with-r810000/.

Endnotes

[1] In English the title reads: “Gang invades Criciúma (SC) to rob bank branches; populace reports terror.” The text reads: “A gang of assailants caused panic and left Criciúma (SC) under siege on Tuesday morning (1). The city located in the south of Santa Catarina was invaded by heavily armed men who closed accesses through barriers, exchanged shots with the police and took hostages.” … “There have been reports of shots fired at a battalion of the Military Police, vehicles on fire and explosives scattered throughout the city.”

[2] In English the title reads: “Gang abandons money after assault and shooting in Criciúma; four men are arrested with R $ 810,000.” The text reads: “Summary:

  • About 30 hooded people robbed a Banco do Brasil branch in the Centro de Criciúma at 11:50 pm on Monday. The action lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes.
  • People were taken hostage and surrounded by criminals; there were blockades and barriers to stop the police from arriving. •    A PM and a guard were injured. No one died.
  • Criminals fled, and some of the money was scattered on the streets. Amount taken and abandoned has not yet been calculated. Four residents were detained after collecting R $ 810 thousand that were left on the ground due to an explosion during the assault.
  • Criminals also left 30 kilograms of explosives behind. Police do not know the total used.
  • 10 cars used in the robbery were seized in a cornfield on a private property in Nova Veneza, northwest of Criciúma."

[3] In English the title reads: “After assault and shooting, group leaves Criciúma on train: ‘Surreal scene’, says mayor.” The text reads: “‘Now that they are gone, the entire police of the State of Santa Catarina is mobilized. The entire intelligence of the Military Police and the Civil Police are all mobilized to capture these outcasts who brought this fear, this terror to our city, from a people who really know how to work. Now, we all panicked. A surreal scene,’ he [Clésio Salvaro] said.”

[4] “Brazil bank heist: Armed men take hostages in attack on Cametá.” BBC News. 2 December 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55155377.

[5] Ibid.

[6] On the challenges of ‘urban siege’ see John P. Sullivan, “Policing Urban Conflict: Urban Siege, Terrorism and Insecurity.” Stratfor. 19 April 2018, https://marcom.stratfor.com/horizons/fellows/dr-john-p-sullivan/30042018-policing-urban-conflict-urban-siege-terrorism-and-insecurity.

[7] Tom Phillips, “‘Under siege’: armed bank robbers launch assault on Brazilian city.” The Guardian. 1 December 2020,  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/01/armed-bank-robbers-assault-brazilian-city-criciuma-siege.

[8] Videos of the assault in Criciúma is available at “VÍDEOS: Quadrilha assalta banco e causa terror no centro de Criciúma, SC.” G1 (Globo). 1 December 2020, https://g1.globo.com/playlist/videos-quadrilha-assalta-banco-e-causa-terror-no-centro-de-criciuma-sc.ghtml.

[9] Cabo Rodrigo Costa, “Criciúma: unidades especializadas da PM prosseguem no rastro dos criminosos.” Policía Militar Santa Catarina (Notícias). 2 December 2020, https://www.pm.sc.gov.br/noticias/criciuma-unidades-especializadas-da-pm-prosseguem-no-rastro-dos-criminosos.

[10] Tom Phillips, “'Under siege': armed bank robbers launch assault on Brazilian city.” The Guardian. 1 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/01/armed-bank-robbers-assault-brazilian-city-criciuma-siege.

[11] Op cit. “Brazil bank heist: Armed men take hostages in attack on Cametá.”

[12] Carolina Mandl, “Exploding ATMs: Brazil banks wrestle with dynamite heists.” Reuters. 16 April 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-violence-banks-insight-idUSKCN1RS123.

[13] Op cit.  Tom Phillips, “‘Under siege’: armed bank robbers launch assault on Brazilian city.”

[14] Felipe Souza and Leandro Machado, “A ameaça do ‘novo cangaço’, que causa terror no interior de SP [São Paulo].” BBC News. 31 July 2020, https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/brasil-53603297.

[15] John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 4: Brigands, Bank Robbery, and Brazilian Gang Evolution at Ciudad del Este and the Triple Frontier.” Small Wars Journal. 26 May 2017, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-no-4.

For Additional Reading

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Eds., Strategic Notes on Third Generation Gangs. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2020.

John P. Sullivan, “The Challenges of Territorial Gangs: Civil Strife, Criminal Insurgencies and Crime Wars.” Revista do Ministério Público Militar (Brazil), Edição n. 31, November 2019. 

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 4: Brigands, Bank Robbery, and Brazilian Gang Evolution at Ciudad del Este and the Triple Frontier.” Small Wars Journal, 26 May 2017.  

Carlos Frederico de Oliveira Pereira, Gangues Territorias e Direito International dos Conflitos Armadas. Curitiba: Juruá Editora

 

About the Author(s)

Dr. John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” He can be reached at jpsullivan@smallwarsjournal.com.

Dr. José de Arimatéia da Cruz is a Professor of International Relations and International Studies at Georgia Southern University, Savannah, GA. He also is a Research Fellow of the Brazil Research Unit at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, DC.

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is Director of Research and Analysis, C/O Futures, LLC, and an Instructor at the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico. Dr. Bunker has well over 500 publications—including about 40 books as co-author, editor, and co-editor—and can be reached at docbunker@smallwarsjournal.com.