Portugal’s minister of education was held up at knifepoint after leaving an Olympic venue in Ipanama, Rio de Janeiro, on Saturday. He temporarily lost some valuables before civilians stopped and beat the robbers and retrieved the loot.
According to spokeswoman Rita Roque, who was with him at the time, Tiago Brandão Rodrigues was leaving an Olympic cycling event at about 7:30 p.m. local time when the pair was assaulted.
O Globo reports that locals, who saw the men running away with wallets and mobile phones, tackled them, holding them down until soldiers deployed to the Olympics for security arrived and apprehended one of the men, who was hospitalized from injuries sustained while civilians attacked him. After being arrested, he allegedly offered police 5000 reais (about $1,500) to release him, which they did not accept.
“Fortunately, it was just a scare. Thankfully nothing serious happened,” Roque told reporters.
“I don’t deny that I had a fright, but it is important for this not to spoil the great feeling we can have living the Olympic Games in our sister Portuguese city,” Rodrigues told Portuguese media following the event, adding that he has “always felt very safe in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil” and that “this can also happen in Europe.”
While Rodrigues is the highest-profile foreign official to become a victim of Rio de Janeiro’s rampant crime at the Olympics, he is not the only such official. Robbers attempted to attack the head of security for the entire event just a day before, and at least one robber was shot dead.
Felipe Seixas, Brazil’s coordinator of security for special events, was also held up at knifepoint. He was accompanied by two undercover officers, however, who shot one of the robbers dead on sight as he claimed to be carrying a gun. Four other robbers fled on their bicycles after the first, a 20-year-old, was killed. Seixas escaped unscathed.
Rio’s violent crime has been a matter of concern for officials and athletes alike for weeks as the athletes descended on the city to train. While these incidents – and two others, one involving a stray bullet flying into the Olympic equestrian center and the other, a bus of Chinese basketball journalists trapped in a local gunfight – have heightened the alarm around the event, such incidents have been occurring for weeks. Two Australian Paralympians were mugged during training, while a jiu-jitsu champion was held up at gunpoint by members of Brazil’s military police, forced to withdraw cash from an ATM to pay them off.
Locals have protested Rio’s police inefficiency for years and, with international media now paying attention, are reiterating their protests. “We’re afraid of going to the bank to get money. At night we don’t feel safe. It’s so sad, we have a country without authority or laws,” Tito Martis, a 75-year-old Ipanema resident, told Agence France-Presse.
Asked to address the dangers of violent crime for athletes and tourists coming to the Olympics, Brazil’s Secretary of Public Security José Mariano Beltrame said in mid-July that visitors would have to take the nature of the city into consideration when visiting: “That’s how Rio is, unfortunately,” he told reporters. Beltrame was responding to concerns that the number of bystanders killed by stray bullets across the city was on the rise.
Brazil has deployed 85,000 soldiers and police to protect the Olympic village.