A recent series of audacious robberies by heavily armed gangs in Brazil suggests crime groups are increasing in firepower and sophistication amid the country's ongoing security crisis.
A March 9 bank robbery in northern Rio de Janeiro by criminals armed with AK-47s and plastic explosives resulted in a shootout with authorities, local police told O Dia. After using explosives to penetrate cash machines, the gang fired on police and escaped. The use of plastic explosives to open cash machines is a process that is becoming standardized throughout the country with multiple cases reported every month.
Meanwhile, on Brazil’s highways, criminals are targeting trucks and armored vehicles transporting valuable goods, including a March 5 heist in the northeastern state of Alagoas in which criminals hijacked and blew up an armored truck transporting cash. Vinicius Ferrari, the head of the police bank robbery section, told Globo.com that the vehicle's security detail was overwhelmed and captured when they came under fire from high-caliber weapons and grenades. The security company responsible for the transport did not give details on the quantity of cash stolen.
As InSight Crime reported previously, armed robberies of goods in transit are a growing problem throughout Brazil. According to a March 2017 report from a Rio-based trade group, the trend has primarily been driven by thefts in the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, which accounted for the vast majority of cargo thefts reported nationwide between 2011 and 2016. Robberies in São Paulo increased by more than 40 percent between 2011 and 2016, while the number of thefts in Rio more than tripled.
Brazil's most powerful crime group, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC), has been linked to a number of bold armed robberies both within Brazil as well as abroad.
In April 2017, the group allegedly carried out a commando-style raid on a transport company in the border town of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. The perpetrators made off with nearly $12 million, making the operation the biggest theft in Paraguay's history. The PCC has also reportedly carried out cargo robberies in Bolivia.
InSight Crime Analysis
The increased willingness of gangs to attempt armed robberies that once would have been considered too risky indicates that criminal groups in Brazil are gaining in strength and sophistication, a process that may accelerate as the government continues to struggle with a broad-based security crisis.
Recent reports suggest that Brazilian crime groups like the PCC are seeking out more powerful weapons, including from countries with loose gun regulations like Venezuela and the United States. Police data showed a 33 percent spike in arms seizures along the country's borders last year.
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In addition to acquiring greater firepower, Brazilian crime groups also appear to be looking to improve their ability to confront security forces and rivals by paying for combat training from former members of the military special forces, Estadão reported.