Rio 2016: Despite Brazil arrests, terror threat remains low, say experts and officials

Soldiers of the Brazilian Armed Forces stand guard outside the 2016 Rio Olympics Village in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Brazilian police arrested 10 people Thursday ahead of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, who had allegedly pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State group. But officials and experts maintain the threat of a terrorist attack is low.

Brazil’s Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes announced the arrests of 10 suspects and that two others were being sought.

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Click to play video: 'Brazil faces political turmoil heading towards Rio Olympic Games'
Brazil faces political turmoil heading towards Rio Olympic Games

The group discussed the use of weapons and guerrilla tactics to potentially launch an attack during the Olympics, Moraes said, but described the group as “amateurs.”

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“They were complete amateurs and ill-prepared to actually launch an attack,” Moraes said, according to the Associated Press. “A few days ago they said they should start practicing martial arts, for example.”

Concerns over terrorism in Brazil were raised following the devastating attack in Nice, France, that killed 84 people. A French prosecutor said Thursday the attacker who drove into a crowded promenade with a massive truck had been planning the attack for “months” and had up to four accomplices.

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Although the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, French authorities have said they have found no signs it was orchestrated by an extremist group.

David Murakami Wood, the Canada Research Chair in Surveillance Studies at Queen’s University, said the threat of terrorism from ISIS militants remains low in Brazil where there is no history of jihadi activity.

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“The threat of ISIS is very small,” Wood told Global News. “The authorities in Brazil described them as amateurs. They had no idea what they were doing and vaguely talked about buying a gun. You’re not talking about a well-organized cell of people.”

“It’s not impossible there will be an attack in Brazil, there can be an attack anywhere, but there is no major threat from ISIS in Brazil or from any Islamic militancy.”

Brazil’s intelligence agency said it was reviewing all threats against the Rio Games after a jihadi message was detected that called for its followers to target the Olympics with “lone wolf” attacks.

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The SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that tracks jihadi and white supremacist organizations, said it discovered a group calling itself “Ansar al-Khilafah Brazil” claiming to follow Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and had promoted ISIS propaganda in Arabic, English and Portuguese, according to Reuters.

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“All threats related to the Rio 2016 Games are being meticulously investigated, particularly those related to terrorism,” the Brazilian intelligence agency ABIN said in a statement.

Wood, who has studied security agencies in Brazil, says the greatest concern ahead of the Olympics is the “incredibly unstable political situation” in the country.

“The police and the army have been involved in massive repressive operations in poor communities in Rio ahead of the games,” he said, adding there were widespread protests over police crackdowns.

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Brazil is also suffering through one of the worst recessions in decades and this month Rio’s governor enacted emergency financial measures to help pay for security, Wood said.

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He added that concerns over political protests, Zika virus and polluted water — where the sailing and paddling events are set to take place — have been more on the minds of Brazilian officials.

The Olympics have been widely controversial in Brazil, with nearly two out of three Brazilians saying that hosting them will cause the country more harm than good, according to a recent opinion poll.

“It becomes a big question about whether it is really worth it. Whether the costs of the games, and the massive increasing security costs, are really worth the outcome,” said Wood.

— With files from the Associated Press

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