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Police Arrest Man Who Stormed Bank, Held 7 Hostages in Puerto Rico

BAYAMON, Puerto Rico (AP) -- A masked man who stormed a bank Tuesday, demanded money and took seven employees hostage surrendered peacefully to police in a standoff that lasted about three hours.

The man entered the bank shortly after it opened. Waving a gun, he announced the robbery and within minutes an alarm sounded.

Police SWAT teams and hostage negotiators raced to the Banco Popular branch in suburban Bayamon and surrounded the building. One woman was freed and two others followed in the first two hours of the standoff.

About an hour later, police emerged with the man, who was wearing a black ski mask. Paramedics entered the bank to treat four other employees who had been held hostage. No injuries were reported.

The assailant was demanding $50,000 in cash, said Puerto Rico Police Superintendent Agustin Cartagena, who was on the first day of the job after the Senate confirmed his nomination Monday.

"He was alleging that he needed the money to pay off a drug debt that he had," Cartagena said. The suspect faces kidnapping and weapons charges at the local and federal levels, authorities said.

Two other men were also detained on suspicion of involvement in the robbery, Cartagena said.

Crime has been rising in the U.S. Caribbean territory of 4 million people. On Friday, a man robbed a Banco Santander of nearly $3,500 in Arecibo.

There have been four bank robberies on the island this year and none of them have been solved, police said. There were 38 bank robberies last year and seven remain unsolved.

Since Jan. 1, police have reported 67 homicides -- 17 more compared to the same period last year. There were 780 killings in 2003 compared to 781 in 2002.

About 80 percent of the violence is drug-related, police say.

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