Brazilian authorities have completed the arrests of suspects identified in Operation Hashtag, a mission to shut down an Islamic State terrorist cell planning a jihadist attack on the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Most are converts to Islam, one is an unnamed minor, and two of the suspects have served time in prison for murder.
Leonid El Kadre de Melo, 32, is considered the most active jihadi in the group on Facebook. He was the last to be arrested in the Mato Grosso region and perhaps the most public — Kadre de Melo had posted in a Facebook community that he intended to attack Olympians representing nations fighting the Islamic State in Rio. Kadre de Melo, of Lebanese descent, was convicted of felony murder and converted to Islam in prison, according to his family. A felony murder is a homicide occurring in the process of a felony, which may not meet the elements of the crime of murder on its own; in Kadre de Melo’s case, the felony was robbery.
Zeina El Kadre de Melo Alves, his sister, described him in a social media post as “an example of a loving father, hard-working man.” “If his sin was to convert to Islam, may God judge him with infinite mercy and love,” she wrote.
She is not the only relative insisting the arrests are a mistake. Larissa Rodrigues, the wife of ISIS suspect Victor Magalhaes, told media it would be impossible for him to have a hand in plotting a terrorist attack because he would have no economic means to go to Rio de Janeiro, 260 miles from their native Guarulhos. “We can’t even afford a trip like that,” she lamented to local media.
Police have confirmed that, while the group does not appear to have interpersonal ties to Middle Eastern jihadist groups, even the Islamic State, they were actively seeking financial support for their plan to attack the Olympics. There is no evidence they received any money, however.
The Brazilian magazine Veja identifies another of the twelve men, Valdir Pereira da Rocha (“Valdir Mahmoud”) as also having been convicted of murder, though it does not specify whether the felony caveat applies. Pereira da Rocha turned himself into authorities last Friday.
O Globo identifies other members of the ring by name, except for the minor, the youngest being 19-year-old Alisson Luan de Oliveira. Thirteen members of the group have been arrested. The group, going by “Guardians of Sharia” online, planned to buy an AK-47 online and sought materials to build a bomb. The newspaper notes that police say they have evidence of discussions referring to the Olympics as their opportunity to go to jannah, the Muslim paradise in the afterlife.
In addition to the aforementioned, at least one suspect appears to have had a job in security. 27-year-old Oziris Moris Lundi dos Santos Azevedo, from the inland Amazonian city of Manaus, recently left a job at the Integrated Center of Security Operations of Amazonia.
Mohammad Zaid Abdul-Rahman Duarte, another Islamic State fanatic arrested during Operation Hashtag, ran an active blog named, “Islam Maranhao,” after his native state. Duarte had also declared himself the “creator, founder, Vice President, and Emir of the “Islamic Society of Maranhao,” which does not appear to be a legally incorporated group.
His blog boasts a sign reading, “You are entering a Sharia-controlled Zone; Islamic rules enforced” as a header and discusses both seemingly moderate topics like “Managing Business According to the Holy Quran” and openly praises the Islamic State.
In a blog post titled, “The Islamic State: A Love Story,” Duarte writes favorably, “the objective of a marriage in the Islamic State is to be together in jannah, not this life.”
“For Americans it is easy to be good (when there is a financial interest) but impossible to be fair,” he writes in another post. “When will we awaken to these American crimes and… carnage?” he asks, adding, “Allahu akbar.”
He also criticizes those promoting the use of contraceptives to prevent the spread of the Zika virus; Brazil is the epicenter of a Zika outbreak beginning last year.
The Islamic State has been working on recruiting Brazilian nationals to commit acts of jihad for years, issuing threats to bomb the 2014 World Cup. Only recently, in light of the beginning of the Summer Olympics, have concrete signs of Islamic State activity in the country surfaced, though. Last week, a group calling itself Ansar al Khalifah Brasil declared its allegiance to ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A Portuguese language channel on the encrypted messaging app Telegram also surfaced recently, translating ISIS propaganda into the local language. An estimated 32 Brazilian nationals have left Latin America to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq.