By Kevan Gillies
Crime in Brazil is a unique situation. Major cities such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife, and Curitiba (capital of the southern state of Paraná) are flooded with favelas (shanty towns) where drug lords rule by fear.
Crime in Brazil is dominated by highly structured criminal organizations such as Primeiro Comando do Capital (PCC) — First Command of the Capital. Many of these groups are commanded from the prisons in São Paulo and have “chapters” or “branches” throughout the country. Comando Vermelho (CV) — Red Command originated in Rio de Janeiro and is similarly organized to PCC. The majority of individual criminals are affi liated with and pay dues to one organization or the other.
Bank robberies, armored vehicle robberies, kidnappings, and drug dealing are just some of the activities practiced by these criminal organizations. In the northwestern region of Brazil, there have been many incidents where heavily armed gangs take small towns hostage, neutralizing the small police force and robbing banks, supermarkets, and businesses. These violent and brutal criminal organizations are famous for the execution of rival gang members by beheading and dismemberment.
After an almost six-month investigation, it became clear that a well-organized group of criminals from the infamous PCC had been pulling a scam on agribusinessmen throughout Brazil. The PCC schemers would contact small-and medium-sized agribusinesses, stating that they had legally confiscated goods (from seeds to tractors) for sale at very low rates. The businessmen would then be talked into flying to Curitiba for negotiations. Upon arrival at Curitiba airport, they would be picked up and held hostage for ransom. Because the families knew that the businessmen were involved in some “shady business,” and because they were frightened and under threat, families would pay the ransom to get their loved ones back in one piece.
With names, rap sheets, addresses, reports, films, and warrants in hand, Grupo TIGRE (the hostage rescue unit of the Civil Police of the State of Paraná) was ready to take the ring into custody. The plan was to hit seven criminal strongholds and hideouts simultaneously. Support from other local agencies was requested to fulfill all seven warrants. Grupo TIGRE was to attack the leader’s residence because a higher risk of resistance was expected.
Tático Integrado de Grupos de Repressão Especial (TIGRE, the Integrated Tactical Groups of Special Suppression) was created in 1989 and handles an average of seven hostage/kidnappings per year in the state of Paraná. The group includes 26 operators and two delegados (commanding officers).
One of the best-trained teams in Brazil, in the last 21 years the group has sustained a success rate of 100 percent. Along with hostage rescue responsibilities, Grupo TIGRE is also responsible for high-risk warrant service.
Preparations and rehearsals
Even after almost six months of investigation, I had received copies of digital photos of the gate and surrounding wall of our target house only the day before the operation. The images were flat and offered little perspective or depth, meaning I would be basing my calculations for breaching charges primarily on my database of previous charges.
During the mission briefing, I briefed the team on all the breaching charges we would be using and pointed out that due to the last-minute images supplied, I could not guarantee with 100 percent certainty that the main charge would get us through the gates. We would have to be ready for an alternate method of entry with the ram, and if things came to the worst, an alternate point of entry by blowing the alarm system wires with a mat charge and scaling the walls. Rules of engagement were clarifi ed and after some hasty rehearsals, at 05:15 hours we piled into our SUVs and rolled in disciplined fashion in the direction of the other side of town to the target. In spite of the intense cold in the open carriage, everyone was focused on what they would have to do at the target.
We halted on the corner of the block, debussed silently, trying to avoid slamming doors and awakening all the dogs in the neighborhood, and got into our stacks. With a squeeze, a tap, and nodding of heads, we moved out of our last concealed cover and initiated our final approach. As soon as we turned the corner, the target was in sight about 100 meters down the road on the right.
In all missions, there are Twilight Zone moments, and this was one of them. From the neighboring house to the target, a small side door opened and out stepped a teenager with his skateboard and his school backpack. I can only imagine what went through is mind when he looked up the road to see 18 heavily armed men in green moving toward him through the morning mist. He nervously turned his back to us and made a hasty getaway, skating off down the road.
I was the third man in the stack, charge in hand and firing device in the pouch on my vest. The point man was positioned at the gate and the second man flooded the sensors of the security camera with 225 lumens of white light. Due to the corrugated metal, which was not visible on the drab photos I was given, I knew as soon as I placed the charge over the locking system that the energy of the high explosives would dissipate and might not give us instant access to the target.
Back in the stack, I checked that everyone was under cover and I fired the charge. At approximately 06:00 hours a 10-gram det cord strip charge made one hell of a bang. I immediately started reeling in the shock tube so it wouldn’t tangle on the team’s legs. “Breacher up, breacher up” was the call given from the point man, meaning we had failed to breach and the battering ram was required.
While the mechanical breacher started to ram the gate, I instantly started accessing the mat charge for the electrified fence, while ladders, shooters, and flash bang grenade (FBG) elements prepped for an assault over the walls. At the exact moment we were ready to throw the mat over the wires, the breacher on his sixth attempt managed to open the gates (by now all the dogs were awake and howling).
I hastily dropped the mat charge, leaving the perimeter elements to care for it, and followed the team into the stronghold while retrieving the folding linear charge for the external wooden door from a pouch on the back of my vest. As I arrived at the front of the stronghold, I found the team positioned covering the windows and front door. The point man had crossed the door and was hollering “golf, golf.” He was answered by the third man “golf on me, golf on me,” letting his M4 hang and accessing an FBG from his vest.
Under cover of the second man, the banger stepped and pulled the pin on the FBG before the door was opened. When the door swung wide the banger saw a pajama-clad, chubby, balding, middle-aged man standing in the middle of the room in a pool of his own urine. I had dropped the folding linear charge and with my weapon in Position SUL (oriented to the ground), I slipped back to fourth man in the stack.
From my position, I could see the confused gestures of the banger. The room he was planning on banging was cramped, measuring about 12 x 10 feet maximum. In the center of the room, there was a glass-top dining table and a crystal cabinet. The surrounding walls were all “half-walls” with the upper part in glass to allow more light into the room. There was glass everywhere, certainly no place for an FB. With the pin already withdrawn, the banger had no alternative other than to holler “negative golf, negative golf,” and to step back out of the stack. The first two men flowed through the main door controlling the suspect and sounding off “15 clear, 18 clear, GO!” which was the cue for the rest of the team to continue its assault and clearing the remaining rooms of the stronghold.
On the command of “dominate,” the scene was secured and locked down. A detailed search of the stronghold yielded further incriminating evidence, including stolen documents, several victims’ checkbooks, and two 9-mm Glocks with 30-round magazines, that had been smuggled across the border from Paraguay. The other six raids were also successfully carried out with multiple arrests made. The two final kidnappers targeted in this operation were apprehended a week later in Santa Catarina.
Like all competent tactical teams, Grupo TIGRE reviews actions after operations to assess what should be sustained and what should be changed for greater future effectiveness. Some of the key lessons we noted from this operation are the following: quality intelligence is of the utmost importance to the breacher; always have alternate points of entrance planned; rehearse, rehearse, rehearse; follow standard operating procedures, e.g., for flash bangs: step, look, pull, throw; and train for the worst-case scenarios.
About the author
Mr. Gillies is a British expatriate resident of Brazil. He cofounded the Tactical Explosive Entry School Brazil (www.teesbrazil.com.br) with Alan Brosnan in 1997. The author also serves as an adjunct instructor in the United States for Tactical Energetic Entry Systems (www.energeticentry.com) and Tactical Firearms Training Team (www.tftt.com).