Andre Penner  /  AP
A burnt-out car remains in front of the bank that was attacked Monday in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
updated 8/7/2006 11:31:29 PM ET 2006-08-08T03:31:29

Assailants sprayed gunfire at police, set off bombs outside government buildings, and torched buses and banks Monday in a new wave of attacks that authorities suspect were ordered by gang leaders in prison.

Criminals believed to be part of a gang ruled by imprisoned leaders attacked 78 symbols of government and businesses across Sao Paulo state, Brazil’s most populous, according to the state’s police commander, Col. Elizeu Eclair Teixeira Borges.

Police killed two suspects and took 12 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.

“I have absolutely no doubt that we will win this war. It probably won’t be this month or next month or maybe next year, but we will win it,” Borges told reporters.

‘State of high alert’
To prevent a repeat of Monday’s violence, Borges said a “state of high alert” had been ordered. The number of patrol cars circulating in Sao Paulo late at night would be tripled while the number of police officers would double.

The leaders of the First Capital Command gang are accused of launching a wave of violence on Sao Paulo’s streets in the last three months that killed nearly 200 people. Imprisoned gang leaders used smuggled cell phones to order their “soldiers” on the streets to attack after 700 members were transferred to more secure prisons in May.

Authorities acknowledge that the First Capital Command controls life inside about 80 percent of Sao Paulo prisons, with smaller ones ruling the rest. And experts say that until their clout behind bars is broken, they won’t lose their power on the streets either.

Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz Bastos again offered to send army soldiers to patrol the streets of South America’s largest city, an offer refused twice this year by Sao Paulo authorities who have said they are capable of quelling the violence on their own.

‘Living in constant fear’
Residents demanded police take harsh action to restore order “We are living in constant fear,” said Emilio Sousa da Silva, a 68-year-old cheese vendor at a market in the city center. “I think the cops are being too soft on criminals and they should be tougher. You’re not going to hear complaints from me if bodies of the criminals start showing up.”

In one of the most prominent attacks, a large explosion 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.

Assailants also set fire to three gas stations and a subway station, and at least 15 buses were torched in and around Sao Paulo, authorities said.

Bullets were fired through windows of a state Finance Ministry building, and two suspects opened fire at a police station from a car in a pre-dawn attack before abandoning the vehicle and fleeing, the Agencia Estado news wire service reported.

ATMs damaged
The attackers also targeted 32 bank branches and automatic teller machines, Borges said. A Unibanco Holdings SA branch was gutted after a car was driven through a plate glass window and the building was set ablaze.

Borges said police killed the suspects after they opened fire on gas station, torched a bus and tried to flee in a car with officers giving chase. Several used car dealerships and a subway station were also targeted.

In the suburb of Jundiai, about 30 miles from Sao Paulo, two gas stations and two automatic teller machines were set on fire.

Bus service was suspended in Jundiai, and some lines were not running in Sao Paulo. But there were no signs the attacks were having as much of an impact on commerce as attacks launched in May by the gang — when the city shut down altogether as terrified residents stayed home and pulled their children from school.

During the May outbreak of violence, the First Capital Command launched attacks on Sao Paulo’s streets and inside dozens of prisons that prompted a week of violence that left nearly 200 prison guards, jail inmates, suspected criminals and bystanders dead. Another 100 attacks in mid-July left at least six people dead.

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