Wed, Aug 09, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Sao Paulo police on high alert after pre-dawn attacks


Police in Sao Paulo have been placed on high alert after suspected gang members unleashed a new wave of violence against police and civilian targets in South America's biggest city.

It was the third time in four months that gunmen believed to belong to the First Capital Command, or PCC, torched buses and banks and opened fire against police stations.

Anchored in local prisons and led by hardened criminals who issue their orders via cellphones and instructions given to their attorneys, the PCC is one of Brazil's most notorious organized crime groups.

In all, 78 symbols of government and businesses across Sao Paulo state, Brazil's most populous, were attacked in the pre-dawn hours of Monday, said state police commander, Colonel Elizeu Eclair Teixeira Borges.

He said the assailants used machine guns, rifles, Molotov cocktails and "other explosive devices" in hit-and-run attacks, avoiding direct confrontation with police.

Police killed two suspects after they allegedly opened fire on a gas station, torched a bus and tried to flee in a car as officers chased them, Borges said.

Twelve suspects were taken into custody. One security guard was injured in a bank attack, and four bystanders were hurt by shards of glass after a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a business, Borges said.

In one of the most prominent attacks, a large blast damaged the main entrance to the state justice ministry building in the city's historic center, destroying computers inside and blowing out windows of neighboring buildings as high as the sixth floor.

Bullets were fired through windows of a nearby state finance ministry building, and assailants opened fire on three police stations in the attacks.

The suspected PCC members also targeted 32 bank branches and automatic teller machines, Borges said.

Borges said that to prevent a repeat of Monday's violence a "state of high alert" had been ordered. He added that the number of patrol cars circulating in Sao Paulo at night would be tripled and the number of police officers would double. He declined to provide exact numbers.

He said the police department expected the PCC would unleash several new attacks "between now and the presidential election" in October.

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