Venezuelan police arrest bank robbers, free hostages

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The four gunmen who were holding as many as 60 hostages in a bank in Altagracia de Orituco, Venezuela, cut a deal with police that allowed them to drive off with five hostages after freeing the remaining.

The Governor of Guárico Eduardo Manuitt, in explaining the deal to media, said that the robbers would not be followed.

However, after the ambulance had been allowed to drive to the outskirts of Caracas, police surrounded the vehicle and arrested all four of them. The five hostages are said to have been freed, though there are no reports of injuries as of yet.

This nightmare is over

—Gov. Eduardo Manuitt

After the ambulance was surrounded, roadside negotiations were begun, Manuitt told state television. The gunmen released three hostages before surrendering their weapons, after which they were ordered to the ground and arrested. "This nightmare is over," he said.

The four suspects are said to be male and all in their twenties. They were armed with pistols and a hand grenade. They had threatened to kill the hostages if police stormed the bank.

Earlier estimates thought there were 30 hostages, but freed hostages have suggested there were as many as 60. Among the hostages were a pregnant woman, a two-week-old infant and several children.

During the standoff, hostage Vanessa Saavedra managed to call Colombia's Caracol Radio by cell phone, saying: "We don't want them to shoot ... We don't want them to open fire. Please."

The siege has called attention to the problem of crime in Venezuela. The country has been facing one of the highest rates of gun-related deaths in the world. President Hugo Chávez has made promises to deal with the problem.