RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Heavily armed drug gang members engaged in an intense firefight with police, then fled into a luxury hotel popular with foreign tourists and held about 30 people hostage for three hours Saturday before surrendering.
The upscale, beachside neighborhood of Sao Conrado where the Intercontinental Hotel sits was transformed into a war zone as upward of 50 gunmen with high-caliber rifles, pistols and even hand grenades faced off with police.
A police spokeswoman said the gunbattle began when police spotted about 10 cars and vans leaving the Vidigal slum heading toward the nearby Rocinha slum.
Both shantytowns are controlled by the Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends) drug gang, and the spokeswoman said the gang members were leaving an all-night party in Vidigal when they ran into the police patrol and began shooting.
Bullets flew for about 40 minutes, terrifying residents of Sao Conrado, which contains a road linking the two slums. Most of the gunmen fled into Rocinha, but 10 ran into the Intercontinental where they quickly grabbed hostages and holed up in the hotel’s kitchen.
Spent casings littered the streets around the hotel. One woman was killed, and four bystanders and three policemen were wounded.
Police said initially that the dead woman was an innocent bystander, but later said she was with the gunmen and had a warrant out for her arrest for alleged drug gang involvement.
“It seemed as if I was in Iraq,” neighborhood resident Jose Oliveira e Silva told the Globo television network.
The police spokeswoman said authorities negotiated with the gunmen to get them to surrender.
“All of the hostages are freed and 10 suspects are in custody,” she said.
Other television images showed an elite military police unit entering the hotel and evacuating dozens of guests, many of whom were there for a dentists convention.