Bank robbers turn LA suburb into a war zone

Los Angeles (AP) - Dressed like commandos, a group of masked men botched a bank robbery yesterday, then bombarded police, bystanders and cars with gunfire in a shootout broadcast live on television. One witness said the gunmen seemed "ready for war."

Two robbers were killed, one was arrested, and at least three bystanders and six police officers were struck by gunfire, Commander Tim McBride said. Four other people - two bystanders and two officers - were also injured.

The shootout turned the area around the Bank of America in a suburban Los Angeles shopping mall into a combat zone as news helicopters hovered above. "They had black masks over their faces and full black gear, with belts and ammo around their waists," said Bob McKibben, an appliance store manager who watched the battle. "These guys were ready for war."

There were believed to be five robbers. A TV audience watched as one was shot in the head by police. Cameras followed a second, limping gunman as he slowly drove away in a car the first gunman had used as a shield. The driver fired randomly and stopped and appeared to be trying to commandeer a pickup truck. Police fired back and eventually surrounded him and took him into custody. It was unclear if he was the second suspect who died.

The authorities said the band had robbed at least two other banks in the past and was motivated by money, not politics. "This is not a militia group, these are brutal killers who were robbing and taking these people's money," Mr McBride said. "These are very organised, brutal bank robbery suspects. They are killers." TV viewers watched bullets slam into cars and buildings, police duck and run and smoke from gunfire come through the windshield of a suspect's getaway car. Shots were sometimes fired at the helicopters. The manhunt for the remaining robbers spread out through North Hollywood, a middle-class area about 10 miles north-west of central Los Angeles.

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