Stand-off after Failed Bank Robbery Leaves Nine Dead in Costa Rica

SANTA ELENA DE MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica (AP) - A hostage standoff following a failed bank robbery in this tourist town came to end late Wednesday with the last gunman turning himself in. Costa Rica's Security Minister said nine people had been killed.

The minister, Rogelio Ramos, said five bank customers, three suspected robbers and one special police agent were killed between the time assailants first started the robbery Tuesday and when police regained control of the bank about 30 hours later.

Authorities stormed the building with guns blazing in a midday raid, but were unable to fully secure the area because a gunman accused of being the leader of the group grabbed a final female hostage and locked himself in a room near the back of the bank. After hours of negotiations, he surrendered to police around 7:45 p.m.

"The only thing left now is facing justice," Ramos told television cameras on the scene, which rolled as the final robber and hostage, whom Ramos identified as Elizabeth Artavia, were taken out of the bank.

The final assailant is the only one who will face charges in the case because his three suspected accomplices were killed.

Ramos said all of the people shot dead inside the bank were believed to be customers. He said two assailants were shot dead in the street during gun battles with guards at the start of the robbery, and that a third died when police stormed the bank a day later.

Also killed in that raid was 44-year-old Oscar Quesada, a special agent who died in a hail of machine gun fire. Quesada had served as a member of the presidential security team until a few months ago.

The security minister said 30 people were inside Santa Elena de Monteverde's Banco Nacional on Tuesday afternoon when the robbery began. Most of those escaped or were allowed to go free by the gunman, however, including 29-year-old Nancy Ramirez, who was more than seven months pregnant, he said.

About 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of the capital, this town is dotted with restaurants, hotels and lodgings for tourists visiting the nearby cloud forests.

Once they had initially become trapped in the bank, the assailants demanded 20 million colones (US$43,000; euroeuro32,219.39) and a vehicle for the safe release of the hostages. They dropped those demands once police had surrounded the building, however.

One of the people inside the bank who escaped, Alexander Arguedas, said in a television interview that the bandits entered the bank while shooting.

"I saw wounded, among them the guard, a boy who was dead and another girl who could only be seen by her shoes, who did not move," he said.