Authorities arrested a 32-year-old Pakistani man in Brazil Sunday after his wife told police he was planning to bomb the Brasilia International Airport. Brazil is on high alert for jihadi activity as it prepares for the 2016 Summer Olympics beginning in August.
The man, whose name law enforcement officials did not release, was allegedly planning a bomb attack on Brasilia’s Juscelino Kubitschek Airport on Monday. His wife told police he had amassed explosives in his home for that purpose. She also told police he was looking to return to Pakistan that Monday.
While he is described as a Pakistani national, at least one report identifies him as having been born in Algeria. He is said to have arrived in Brazil in 2014 and married, his wife being a Brazilian native. The couple subsequently split after she found out that, to marry her, the man had forged a death certificate for a woman he had married in Pakistan.
Brazil’s O Globo newspaper reports that a search of the man’s premises found no explosives on Monday, but the man has not denied the plot. When police asked him whether he was seeking to bomb the airport, the newspaper reports that he invited police to go to the airport “to find out.” Police described the man as speaking “in a very disturbed way.”
Lt. Col. Itamar Valverde of the Brazilian police told reporters that the matter is being taken seriously, particularly in the context of the Olympics. “For the Military Police, the Olympics began a long time ago,” he asserted. “We are focused on ensuring the safety of the capital and treating all complaints and incidents very seriously.”
Threats of potential jihadist activity around the upcoming Olympic Games have been circulating for at least a year. In March 2015, Brazilian newspapers began to report that police had reason to believe the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) had begun recruiting terrorists in Brazil to launch attacks from the ground. As ISIS has no known infrastructure tying its leadership in Iraq and Syria to Brazil, the recruiting efforts were reportedly being done through propaganda and social media targeting of individuals who may be sympathetic to the jihadist message.
Last week, Brazilian police announced that they had intercepted jihadist messages in Portuguese on the encrypted communications app Telegram, a favorite among Islamic State supporters. “We understand that the creation of an account can be the opening of a door to radicalize Brazilian,” a national security official told Reuters.
Adding to the alarm is the disappearance of Jihad Ahmed Diyab, a former Guantánamo Bay detainee who was released to Uruguay in 2014. Diyab’s whereabouts are currently unknown, but he was last heard from allegedly traveling to the Uruguay-Brazil border to observe the Ramadan Muslim holy month. There is no record of Diyab entering Brazil, though Uruguayan officials have insisted that many travel across that border without being officially documented in Brazil. While recent reports place Diyab in Venezuela, there is little evidence confirming any rumor regarding his location.
Diyab can only walk using crutches, which limits his movement, and he does not speak Spanish or Portuguese. He asserted while in Uruguay that he was not an al-Qaeda member when he was arrested by American forces, but that while in captivity, he grew to sympathize with it. As he was arrested before the Islamic State declared itself independent of al-Qaeda, his attitudes towards the group are unknown.