Brazil arrests 10 suspected ISIS members ‘planning Olympic terrorist attacks’

Brazilian police special forces © Lunae Parracho
Interim Brazilian President Michel Temer has called an emergency cabinet meeting after authorities arrested 10 alleged Islamic State members who were planning to carry out acts of terror during the Olympic Games in Rio, which begin next month.

"This shows that Brazil is on its toes and monitoring any suspects that could become a threat," Brazil's presidential Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha told reporters, adding that the country's top security officials had been sent to France to learn more about terror prevention in the aftermath of the attack on Nice.

The police operation, codenamed 'Hashtag,' took place across nine states, with suspects arrested in Sao Paulo and Parana. Justice Minister Alexandre Moraes told a news conference on Thursday that all the detainees were Brazilian nationals.

Judicial authorities in the state of Parana claimed that intercepted data and telephone calls revealed that a terrorist cell was planning to use “weapons and guerrilla tactics” to achieve its aims. It says that 12 warrants have been issued for an initial 30 days, which could be extended if charges are substantiated.

Moraes said that the men were new converts to Islam, who initially researched jihadism on the internet, and came into contact by simply exchanging pro-jihadist messages on the chat platforms WhatsApp and Telegram, according to leading Brazilian media outlet O Globo.

In their exchanges the men celebrated recent attacks on an Orlando night club and on a Bastille Day crowd in Nice. Recently, they “swore an oath to Islamic State” and moved to “preparatory acts” for a local attack, prompting police action. According to Moraes, one of the men attempted to buy a Kalashnikov rifle from a website in Paraguay.

Brazil's Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes attends a press conference on arrests made in at least two states before the start of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, in Brasilia July 21, 2016. © Adriano Machado

"It was an absolutely amateur cell, with no preparation at all, a disorganized cell," said Moraes, stating that the suspects did not manage to arrange two-way contact with Islamic State. He said the detainees had been on a list of 50 terror suspects identified by the government earlier.

Brazilian Army Forces soldiers patrol outside the 2016 Rio Olympics Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil © Fabrizio Bensch

Over the past weekend, SITE Intelligence Group reported that a group calling itself 'Ansar al-Khilafah Brasil' – 'Soldiers of the Caliphate Brazil' – pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State. SITE also says that a channel on Telegram has been posting Portuguese-language translations of IS terrorist manuals, and has also issued a call for recruits, saying "Lone wolf from anywhere in the world can move to Brazil now." It is unclear if the messages were sent from Brazil or elsewhere, and what, if any, connection, they have to the arrested men.

This year Brazil passed more powerful anti-terror legislation, but its readiness to provide security for the over-budget and controversial Olympics is in question. The Wall Street Journal reported that the contract to hire and train the 6,000 security screeners to be employed at Olympic venues was only awarded at the beginning of July, and to a small local company with no previous history of handling such large-scale events. The newspaper also reported that another government tender – for additional CCTV cameras at Rio’s sports facilities – was issued only in June, and was priced too low, failing to attract any bidders at all.