Brazil charged 11 people with trying to establish an Islamic State terror cell to recruit jihadis to fight in Syria, the federal prosecutor’s office in Goias state announced on Thursday.
The newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo reported that the alleged participants were tracked by police on social media after Spanish authorities found telephone numbers on the phone of a man they arrested on suspicion of jihadist activity.
In one conversation taking place over instant messaging service WhatsApp, the individuals discussed plans to carry out an attack similar to the one that took place at Westminster Bridge in London last March.
As well as their social media activity, police also located homemade weapons in one of the accused’s houses who is believed to be involved with the terrorist organization al-Qaeda.
A spokesperson for the federal prosecutor’s office confirmed that two of the suspects are being held in a maximum security prison while five others have been released on bail.
It is not the first time that Brazilian authorities have unraveled a planned jihadist terrorist attack. In the run-up to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, authorities arrested ten people, including one minor, on suspicion of plotting attacks during the games.
At the time, Brazilian Minister of Justice Alexandre de Moraes described the group as “completely amateur,” adding that they did not know how to handle weapons and tried to buy a firearm online.
In 2016, the SITE Intelligence group also confirmed that a jihadist cell known as the “Soldiers of the Caliphate Brazil” had pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State with members who are “prepared for the sacrifice of becoming martyrs.”
The arrests are another sign of the growing threat of terrorism expanding across Latin America. Many jihadist groups are actively engaged in efforts to radicalize and recruit people across Latin America, particularly those involved with violent street gangs with links in the United States.
In Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro’s socialist regime is also reportedly allowing increasing numbers of Islamist groups such as Hezbollah to operate in the country. Some regional authorities fear potential plans to infiltrate through America’s southern border.