Brazil arrests faction plotting ‘acts of terrorism’ before Olympics
‘Amateur cell’ considered disorganised but linked to online group ‘defenders of Sharia’
Military personnel outside the departure area of Galeao International Airport ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photographer: Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg
Brazil arrested 10 people on Thursday on suspicion of belonging to a group supporting Islamic State and preparing acts of terrorism during next month’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, said minister for justice Alexandre Moraes.
The loosely organised group were all Brazilian citizens and in contact via internet messaging groups such as WhatsApp and Telegram, but did not know each other personally, said the minister.
The group did not have direct contact with the so-called Islamic State, though some of its members had made “pro forma” declarations of allegiance to the militant Islamist group, said the minister. He did not elaborate.
“Those involved participated in an online group denominated ‘the defenders of Sharia’ and were planning to acquire weapons to commit crimes in Brazil and even overseas,” according to Mr Moraes.
“It was an absolutely amateur cell with no preparation at all, a disorganised cell,” he added. The minister said authorities decided to intervene when the group started to plan actions.
He said members of the group had visited a weapons site in neighbouring Paraguay that sells AK-47 assault rifles, but there was no evidence they acquired any weapons. Two people will be brought in for questioning, in addition to the 10 already detained, he added.
Interim president Michel Temer had called an emergency cabinet meeting following the arrests, the first under Brazil’s tough new anti-terrorism law approved this year.
The minister said the leader of the group was based in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba, with others spread in nine Brazilian states.
A court in the state of Parana, where Curitiba is based, said there were indications that the group was planning to use weapons and guerilla tactics to achieve its aim.
Brazil’s intelligence agency said on Tuesday it was investigating all threats to the Rio Olympics, which start on August 5th, after a presumed Brazilian Islamist group pledged allegiance to Isis.
The SITE Intelligence Group that monitors the internet reported the previously unknown group calling itself “Ansar al-Khilafah Brazil” said on the Telegram messaging app on Sunday that it followed Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and had promoted Isis propaganda in Arabic, English and Portuguese.
Brazilian authorities stepped up security measures following the truck massacre in Nice, France last week, planning security cordons, additional roadblocks and the frisking of visitors in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics.