At 5:30 am on Tuesday, a masked man suspected of being a military police officer hijacked a bus on the Rio-Niteroi Bridge in Brazil. He reportedly threatened to set the bus on fire, thus putting the almost 37 passengers at risk. However, he later released six people. Eventually the hijacker was shot down by a police sniper.
Marcello Lobo, a Niterói resident, says it was a great relief to everyone that the hostages were freed and the hijacker neutralised, praising the police's professionalism.
"This time, the contested Rio police did a great job. They managed to rescue the 37 hostages, safe and sound, without injury. The kidnapper was shot down by a sniper. And the people around celebrated the success of the police actions".
Although Lobo was not present at the scene, he highlights that the incident affected the entire city of Niteroi, causing a hundred-kilometre long traffic jam.
"This event changed the routine of thousands of people using the bridge and other nearby roads to get to their work and study places. There were more than four hours of interdiction of this important road, causing more than 100km of traffic jam", he recollects.
A resident of Halo Branco, São Gonçalo district, who called himself Marcos Carvalho, says that he miraculously escaped the fate of the hostages of Bus 2520: it was so crowded that Marcos chose to wait for the next one.
"Already on the bridge… traffic began to slow down and a traffic jam began to form, but I was asleep", Carvalho recalls. "When I woke up, the passengers talked about the 'hijacking of the 2520' ahead of us".
He cites the press reports that the hijacker got on the bus at the final stop in Alcantara: "If this is true, that means that when I refused to get into this bus, [the hijacker] was already there", the Halo Branco resident highlights.
According to the young man, he and other passengers saw some strange movement in the hijacked vehicle for a short period of time and then "it became very smoky, only police sirens were heard, there were many police cars and many people".
Paulo Storani, a former BOPE instructor (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, literally "Special Police Operations Battalion"), an elite unit of the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro State (PMERJ), has commented on the situation.
“The decision in the hostage-taking situation was the most adequate under the given circumstances at that time, based on the assessment of the operation’s leader. After many hours of holding a large number of hostages by the suspect and given the fact that he refused to surrender to the police, as he had promised earlier, according to the journalists covering the incident, the operation leader ordered the sniper to neutralise the suspect because there was nothing else left. Thus, all the police officers who participated in the operation acted correctly and within what the situation allowed: to choose the right moment to open fire on the suspect with the utmost care so as not to injure the innocent victims who had been in the hands of the suspect for several hours”.
Colonel Diógenes Lucca, the former commander of the São Paulo Military Police Special Operations Tactical Group (Grupo Tático de Ações Especiais da Polícia Militar de São Paulo, GATE) and a hostage negotiator, says that while the police always want to solve hostage-taking incidents through negotiations, the main goal is to ensure the safety of all parties involved in the conflict.
"It is clear that we always want to resolve such situations through negotiations, because negotiations are the closest alternative to the main goal of solving these crises. What is the main goal? To save the lives of all, hostages, policemen and even the criminal, maintain public order and implement the law", he notes.
While being the primary alternative, negotiations still have certain limits, the former commander elaborates: "If the perpetrator does not cooperate, and signs of failure and increasing risk to the hostages are emerging, the operation manager is obliged to consider other possibilities in accordance with the established rules", he underscores. "And in the case of Rio de Janeiro, it seems to me that this is exactly what happened".
According to Lucca, the operation was carried out brilliantly: "The crisis was contained, the scene isolated, and the communication through negotiations established, but [the Brazilian security forces] realised that the negotiations did not give results, and in this case they chose the option with a sniper. I believe that from the point of view of crisis management, [it was] an absolutely magnificent operation".
While it was initially suggested that the man was armed, the police later told the press that he only had a toy gun.
According to Sheila Sena, a spokeswoman for the Federal Road Police, the motivation of the hijacker was unclear. The Special Operations Battalion and negotiators kicked off an operation aimed at getting the hostages out of the vehicle.
Later, the police reported that the suspect had been shot down, adding that "all the hostages were released unharmed".