Hotel and Restaurant Takeovers

Following up on the miracle fishing kidnapping post its a good opportunity to discuss other situations where victims are seized in masse as many of the same issues exist.  These are also crimes that, like miracle fishing are circumstances where funadamental security measures may be of limited use.

For this reason we’ll look at different examples of this from hotel takeovers in Lagos, Nigeria to recent restaurant takeovers in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  

Recently there have been a rash of restaurant takeovers and armed robberies in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  The phenomenon is called arrastao – Portuguese for “trawling” – and while it has been going on for several years but has recently increased in frequency.  The arrastao gangs – usually composed of four to ten men – select a target based on the ease of entry and exits and then descend at a peak hour when the establishment is full of diners.  They move in quickly, secure the restaurant and rob the patrons and employees at gunpoint taking anything of value that they can get – usually cash, jewelry and electronic items.  The robbery is usually over within minutes and the gang withdraws as quickly as they have arrived.

Lagos, Nigeria has experienced a similar – and perhaps more violent – pattern of hotel takeovers.  These incidents while more common around 2007-2009 are still occurring – at least as recently as 2011 when the Imperial Hotel in Lagos was invaded and guests, including a prominent Nigerian actress were robbed at gunpoint.  While many of the hotels that were robbed were guesthouses and small budget hotels, one popular brand hotel was also taken over on Ikoyi island in Lagos.  In some of these Nigerian cases the robbery gangs have actually gone door-to-door in the hotels robbing guests in their rooms.

Incidents like the Mumbai attacks – where the intent was to kill as many people as possible and the temporary assault on an upscale Rio de Janeiro hotel by rival gangs  are a little bit different but some of the fundamental precautions are the same.  In hotel takeover situations once you become of aware of the situation you have basically two options:(1) get out quickly without being noticed or (2) shelter-in-place.  If you are in a restaurant that is taken over you will likely have limited to no option to shelter in place (unless you are in or near the restroom) and very likely no opportunity to escape as the attack will be planned out well and the perpetrators will likely have secured all the exits.  Fortunately these are usually economically motivated crimes and if you surrender your valuables the criminals will likely take what they can get and want to leave as quickly as possible.

Shelter in place for a situation like a hotel takeover will be the same as for an active shooter situation.  You will want to seek both cover (protection from gunfire, etc.) and concealment (protection from observation).  An in depth discussion of possible individual actions to an active shooter incident is beyond the scope of this post but will be addressed in future.

The bottom line is that like miracle fishing these types of events are difficult to counter using many of the fundamental individual protective measures.  The best defense is to know the local patterns and trends, the profiles of establishments that are being attacked and avoid being there.  Awareness will still be a key component and if all else fails may help you at least recognize the danger more rapidly.

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