International tourists ran for their lives as 50 members of a heavily armed drug gang stormed a luxury Intercontinental Hotel in Rio de Janeiro during an intense gun battle with police. Thirty-five people, including delegates of an international dental conference, were held hostage for three hours by gunmen waving pistols and high-calibre rifles, backed by others armed with hand grenades and submachine-guns.
As reported by the Telegraph, gunmen apparently emerged from a wild all-night party in a Rio de Janeiro slum and got into a shooting match with a heavily armed police patrol. Members of the gang then burst into the hotel.
The gang finally surrendered, but only after a pitched battle which continued for 40 minutes, sending bullets flying up and down the street, killing a female gang member and wounding several bystanders.
Witnesses said the upmarket beachside neighbourhood of Sao Conrado, site of the Intercontinental Hotel, resembled a war zone as black-clad police marksmen returned fire as the gunmen shot at them. The street was littered with spent shell casings and bullet holes were everywhere. A local resident interviewed on Brazil’s Globo television network compared the scene to something out of Iraq.
Local press reported that the battle started when police saw about 10 cars and vans leaving a party in the Vidigal slum and heading toward nearby Rocinha slum, a massive shantytown with over 100,000 residents. Both slums are controlled by a drug gang called Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends).
Elite military police units, like the one which entered the Intercontinental and evacuated guests after the gang surrendered, are at the forefront of a drive to rid Rio of crime in advance of the huge sporting events that will put the city in the world spotlight.
The Brazilian city is preparing to host both the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.