Brazil’s ministries of Justice and Defense are playing catch-up following a report from French authorities that Brazilian Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists were plotting an attack on the French Olympic team during next month’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Christophe Gomart, the head of France’s military intelligence directorate (DRM), warned in May that a Brazilian national is working with the Islamic State and targeting France. The French government made public a transcript of remarks that he made in a private hearing on Wednesday. The remarks do not identify any particular individuals as suspects in the plot or give any indication as to whether French officials know the location of their suspects.
The Brazilian newspaper O Globo describes the response from the Brazilian law enforcement community as a “surprise.” Wilson Roberto Trezza, the head of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin), told reporters that no French officials contacted them about the suspect, and that this was the first they had heard of such a scheme. “I cannot confirm what happened, as he had known and had not spoken with us yet. But certainly, we will sit down to talk about it,” he assured listeners Wednesday.
“Taken by surprise, the Ministries of Justice and of Defense of Brazil mobilized diplomatic channels, exchanged communication with the embassies of France and the United States, and sought more detailed information,” O Globo notes.
The Brazilian government is still taking the stance that no concrete jihadist threats against the Olympics exist. “The information we have is that the situation has been resolved by the French government,” Defense Minister Raul Jungmann said of the matter.
American officials have repeatedly stated that jihadist groups like the Islamic State and Hezbollah have, for years, maintained a presence in South America. The tri-border area between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay is known as a particularly notable hotbed of Islamist activity.
Threats of Islamist activity against the Summer Olympics have surfaced repeatedly during the past year, and Brazilian officials have repeatedly stated they are prepared for such an event.
The Brazilian magazine Veja asserts that Trezza’s claims that, putting aside the fact that he had not known about the French plot, secret Abin documents show the intelligence agency is aware of at least one Brazilian national involved in the Islamic State and actively recruiting Brazilians. The magazine published what it claimed to be an Abin report this week addressing a jihadist known as Ismail Abdul Jabbar al-Brazili. (Islamic State jihadists often take a nom de guerre identifying their homelands.) Al-Brazili has been active on the encrypted communications application Telegram. In addition to al-Brazili, the report claims Abin is monitoring “at least thirty suspects” with ties to the Islamic State.
Veja quotes the report as reading:
The spread of Salafist radical ideas among Brazilians, combined with operational and legal limitations to monitor suspects and the difficulty of neutralizing preparatory acts of terrorism, points to an unprecedented increase in Brazil of the probability of attacks throughout 2016, especially during the Rio 2016 Games.
The Brazilian government has confirmed the existence of a Portuguese-language Telegram account looking to recruit Brazilian Muslims, though it has not publicly identified anyone suspected in organizing and running it.
Threats of jihadist attacks on the Summer Olympics are the latest in a series of concerns about the safety of athletes and spectators at the Games. Officials are blaming a financial crisis for a growing wave of violent crime in Rio de Janeiro that has taken three lives in as many days and affected Olympians, hospital patients, and bystanders, who were killed by stray bullets. As the local government does not have the funds to pay police, nor do police have the money to pay for gasoline for patrol cars, criminals have been taking advantage of the lack of security. Officials have promised to settle the matter before the Games begin, though at least one official has attributed the problem to “how Rio is,” offering no solution.