35 taken hostage during gunfight in Rio


TERRIFIED HOLIDAYMAKERS were caught up in an intense gunfight between a Rio de Janeiro drugs gang and police on Saturday, during which gang members invaded a luxury hotel and took 35 people hostage before releasing them after a three-hour standoff.

The violence started when police tried to intercept a convoy of vans and motorbikes containing up to 50 members of the Friends of Friends gang who were returning from an all-night party in the Vidigal favela to their base in the neighbouring favela of Rocinha, Brazil’s biggest slum.

The gang fought off police with machine guns and rifles as it sought to make its way back to Rocinha, with several gang members fleeing on foot or forcing passing motorists to drive them away.

The shootout lasted about 40 minutes leaving the surrounding streets littered with bullet casings. “I felt like I was in Iraq,” local resident José Oliveira e Silva told the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper.

Most of the gang made it back to the slum which police did not enter.

But a group of 10 fled into the nearby Intercontinental Hotel, taking 35 hostages, among them five guests. Local media showed guests fleeing the five-star hotel whose management said had about 800 guests at the time, half of them foreigners, many in town for Rio’s half marathon which was run yesterday.

After three hours of negotiations the group in the hotel released their hostages and surrendered to police.

The O Globo newspaper said the police operation was an unauthorised attempt by officers to capture Antônio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, o Nem, the head of drug-trafficking in Vidigal and Rocinha. He evaded capture but police detained his second in command. One person died during the shootout, a suspected gang member who was wanted by police on drugs related offences. Four police officers were injured in the operation.

Saturday’s violence has highlighted the insecurity in Brazil’s second largest city which will host the football World Cup finals in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016.