Twenty-five alleged members of a gang of Brazilian bank robbers were killed yesterday in a vast police operation in Minas Gerais state, according to police.
The operation by 50 officers, in conjunction with Military Police, took place near the city of Varginha.
Police raided two farms where "members of a criminal organisation specialising in robbing banks and ATMs" were preparing attacks on several local bank branches, a police source said.
Eighteen of the suspects were killed on the first farm and seven at the second farm, police said. There were no casualties among the security forces.
The suspects' identities were not revealed.
"It is probably our largest operation against this type of crime in the country. Many suspects were going to rob banks and were surprised by our intelligence service," said Captain Layla Brunnela, of the Military Police.
Then, "when we started the operation, we were shot at, so the military had to respond to the unjust attack to protect their lives," Lieutenant Colonel Rodolfo Morotti Fernandes, commander of the Police Special Operations Battalion, told a briefing in Minas Gerais.
A large trove of weapons was seized, including rifles and grenades, as well as several stolen vehicles, according to the source.
Police say such gangs often set fire to stolen vehicles to block streets after a robbery and make it harder for police to pursue them.
"By the level of organisation, the equipment used, the number of agents, by the number of vehicles, this is a large gang. It is certain that they are beginners who got together," said Lt Col Morotti Fernandes.
Brazil has seen an increase in highly planned bank robberies involving heavy weapons, usually in medium-sized cities where escape routes are carefully planned.
In August, a gang in the city of Aracatuba, in Sao Paulo state, spread terror during a robbery involving drones, explosives and the use of hostages as human shields.
Three people died during that attack.
Lt Col Morotti Fernandes said it was possible that the gang from yesterday's raid "is the same gang that operated in Aracatuba," as well as other cities that experienced similar crimes, such as Uberaba in Minas Gerais and Criciuma in southern Santa Catarina state.