By Sibel Tinar, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – A violent confrontation between drug traffickers and the police led to a state of emergency in Rio de Janeiro this morning, as a group of bandits took thirty-five guests and employees hostage in a luxury hotel in São Conrado in Zona Sul, after getting involved in an intense shooting with the police.
The incident started at about 8:30AM Saturday morning, when a large group of drug traffickers from Rocinha and Morro do Urubu were returning from a party at the favela Vidigal started a shooting with the police as they encountered the patrol forces of the 23rd Batallion of Polícia Militar of Leblon.
According to the police, about forty armed bandits were circulating in São Conrado in vans, motorcycles and cars when the confrontation began. A woman from the group of bandits was killed, and four police officers were injured during the shooting that lasted about forty minutes, which saw the neighborhood turn into a terror zone in early morning hours.
As some of the bandits managed to flee the scene and disappear into the streets of Rocinha, ten heavily-armed men, some injured, captured a passerby in an attempt to escape from the police, and forced him to help them knock down the security barriers protecting the Hotel Intercontinental in São Conrado at about 9:10AM.
The bandits proceeded to take thirty employees and five guests hostage in the hotel, locking and holding them in the kitchen at gunpoint.
According to Colonel Lima Castro, the social communications coordinator of Polícia Militar, the group of ten men who took hostages were “heavily armed, with eight rifles, five pistols, in addition to a lot of ammunition and some grenades”.
A large-scale security operation was deployed in the area, as the Batalhão de Operações Especiais (Special Operations Batallion), the Batalhão de Choque (Shock Batallion), and many police helicopters surrounded to hotel, in an effort to resolve the hostage crisis without any casualties.
The police officers of BOPE, the elite group within Polícia Militar, whose operations came into spotlight with the popular movie Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad), negotiated with the bandits for the release of the hostages. As part of the operation, even the mother of one of the criminals was brought to the scene from Rocinha, who begged his son to free the hostages.
The bandits ended up surrendering to the police around 11AM. No hostages were harmed or injured during the incident, and the hotel was evacuated and closed in order to allow the police do a thorough examination of the locale.
Sérgio Cabral, the governor of Rio de Janeiro issued a statement praising the police effort during the confrontation, saying: “It is important to highlight the police action, firm, professional and effective. We have had no illusions with regard to the size of the challenge we are facing since the very first day, but we believe that we are on the right track.”
The shooting and the following hostage situation created a state of panic and alarm in São Conrado and its surroundings, beginning with the closure of the Zuzu Angel and Acústico tunnels during the shooting, which led to drivers abandoning their cars in the tunnel.
Many commercial venues, including large shopping malls were shut down, and the football team Fluminense, which was on its way to Hotel Intercontinental when the shooting began, was immediately directed away from the incident, which the residents in the area described saying that they “felt as if they were in Iraq”.
After the incident, the police reported that the bandits were escorting Francisco Bonfim Lopes, the drug kingpin from Rocinha known as “Nem”, who was believed to be injured during the shooting, even though he was not in the group captured by the police, and his whereabouts remained unknown.