RIO DE JANEIRO – Gunmen engaged in a shootout with police took 30 people hostage Saturday at a luxury hotel popular with foreign tourists but within hours freed the captives and surrendered to police.
The upscale, beachside neighborhood where the Intercontinental Hotel is located was transformed into a virtual war zone as the 10 suspects — armed with high-caliber rifles, grenades and pistols — exchanged fire with police in a shootout that killed a bystander as she was getting out of a taxi.
Dozens of other suspects fled into a nearby slum where the shootout began. Spent casings from high-caliber weapons littered the pavement in front of the hotel and residents of the neighborhood said they were awakened by the shooting.
“It seemed as if I was in Iraq,” Jose Oliveira e Silva, a resident of the Sao Conrado neighborhood, told the Globo television network.
Amateur video aired on Globo showed a group of black-clad police taking heavy fire and returning it as they took cover behind a garbage truck. Sanitation workers in bright orange jumpsuits huddled behind the truck, waiting for the onslaught to end.
Globo also broadcast images of the shooting victim’s body, which lay on the street partially covered by black plastic sheeting.
Another witness, Ricardo Valladares, told Globo: “We are all frightened to death. No one is leaving the building because we don’t know if there are more criminals nearby.”
The police spokeswoman, who could not be identified because she was not authorized to discuss the matter, said that the gunmen held hostages in the hotel’s kitchen “but we negotiated with them.”
“All of the hostages are freed and 10 suspects are in custody,” she said, adding that police searched the hotel for other gunmen but found none hiding inside.
Other television images showed an elite unit of Brazil’s military police entering the hotel and evacuating approximately 400 guests, many of whom were staying there for a dentists’ convention.
Security in Rio de Janeiro is of great concern as the city prepares to host the final of the 2014 football World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Officials have vowed to fight violence, and in the past year started an aggressive program of invading slums where heavily armed drug gangs hold sway, driving them out and creating police posts in those poor communities.
The program has managed to clear drug gangs from about 10 slums located in Rio’s rich southern zone.
The Intercontinental is a favorite among foreign tourists, but the nationalities of those taken hostage was not immediately known.