Brazilian authorities are growing increasingly concerned with the possibility of jihadists targeting the 2016 Summer Olympics for a terrorist attack, following the discovery of Portuguese-language Islamic State communications.
The Spanish newspaper El País reports that Brazil’s Intelligence Agency (ABIN) has evidence indicating that the Islamic State and other terrorist groups are looking to encourage attacks on tourists and athletes in Rio de Janeiro this August. The newspaper cites reports in Brazilian publication Veja suggesting that ISIS is working to encourage “lone wolves,” using the term not to mean individuals with no ties to ISIS (as it is often used in the United States) but to refer to jihadists connected with ISIS online but not controlled by a terror leader on the ground in Brazil.
An ABIN document obtained by Veja allegedly states that “one of the greatest government concerns is following the radicalization of individuals ideologically aligned with the Islamic State.” This is not the first time such reports surface of the threat of ISIS rising in Brazil. As early as March 2015, Brazilian law enforcement officials warned that the nation could be a soft target for jihadists, particularly because, due to its lack of a history with terrorist activity, Brazil does not have anti-terrorism laws on the books that would allow for the online monitoring necessary to catch threats before they develop.
Authorities have intercepted some jihadi correspondence, and have found that the Islamic State has developed a Portuguese-language channel on the encrypted communications app Telegram, popular with jihadists because it offers privacy from governments. A national security source told Reuters: “We understand that the creation of an account can be the opening of a door to radicalize Brazilian.”
While Brazil does not have much of a history of Sunni Islamist activity, Shiite organizations tied to Iran have a long-established presence in a region known as the “Tri-Border Area,” which straddles Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. Hezbollah has established numerous “cultural centers” and fronts there, according to American national security experts. The presence of Shiite terrorist groups may make it more difficult for Sunni groups to establish a prolonged organizational presence there but would not effect terrorist activities by individuals inspired by Sunni jihadists abroad.
The El País report confirms at least the transient presence of Islamist suspects in the region. A national security analyst confirmed the existence of a human trafficking ring passing through Brazil, helping individuals from the Middle East with suspect backgrounds reach the United States.
At least one of these individuals is Jihad Ahmed Diyab, a former Guantánamo Bay detainee with ties to Al Qaeda who had lived for years in Uruguay. Diyab allegedly left Uruguay to spend Ramadan in Brazil, but this week Brazilian officials confirmed they had no record of Diyab entering the country. Authorities believe he is using a fake passport, and have not indicated that they know where Diyab may have gone. Diyab walks on crutches and cannot speak Spanish, Portuguese, or English, limiting his ability to blend-in inconspicuously.
The last time Brazil became an attractive target for ISIS was in 2014, when they were still the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and Brazil was hosting the FIFA World Cup. At the time, ISIS terrorists used their online accounts to threaten Brazil, hijacking the hashtag #WorldCup to post photos of severed heads and doctored photos of explosions over World Cup venues.