By Giovanni Giacalone, Analyst KEDISA
The 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil have begun with one major concern, the fear of terror attacks perpetrated by the Islamists. An unusual concern for the Latin-American country, where other problems such as high crime rate and social unrest have been the top priorities for local authorities.
Some areas of Brazil, but in particular the tri-border region where Foz do Iguacu is located, has seen in the early ‘80s a flow of immigrants from the Middle East, mainly belonging to the Shia branch of Islam, which settled in the area and across the border in the Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este. That is where, through the years, terror groups such as Hizbullah and pro-Iran cells found a safe heaven. According to investigations, Lebanese terror mastermind and former Hizbullah top commander, Imad Mugnyeh, coordinated the terror attacks of 1994 against the Jewish community of Argentina from Ciudad del Este.
In the early 2000 the area of the tri-border also saw an infiltration of groups linked to al-Qaeda but always with logistical tasks. Brazil never became a target of Islamist terrorism until November 2015, when Maxime Hauchard, a French Isis jihadist tweeted a post saying: “Brazil, you are our next target”.
The objective of such statement was clear from the beginning, Isis was aiming to earn more popularity through the Olympics and in a new geo-political area, Latin America.
Even though it is obvious how the media/propaganda capacity of Isis is far more effective than its real abilities on the fighting ground, the Brazilian intelligence service, ABIN, did take into account the threat, as the preventive measures had already been implemented way before.
The Brazilian authorities’ counter-terror strategy runs on two levels:
Preventive intelligence activity coordinated by the police, the army and the intelligence, in cooperation with the counter-terror centers, will monitor all the sensitive areas. Border-controls have been implemented in order to detect any potential infiltration from nearby countries. Abin is closely coordinating its activity and exchanging information with foreign intelligence agencies.
Quick-response units such as BOPE and CORE have been training for months to contrast and neutralize potential attacks perpetrated by jihadist cells while preventive operations have successfully brought to the arrest of several Islamist extremists, including a cell of ten people, throughout the country, that were communicating and preparing for terror activities.
The major recent events that have so far taken place in Brazil and that have brought some concern are the following:
-On June 29, 2016, Brazilian authorities launched an alarm throughout the country as former Guantanamo prisoner, Ahmed Deyab, crossed into Brazil from Uruguay and disappeared. The Syrian terrorist had been released from the US penitentiary and transferred to Uruguay as a result of an agreement between Barrack Obama and Jose Mujica.
– At the end of May 2016 a group named “Ansar al-Khalifah Brazil” threatened the Rio Olympics: “If French police couldn’t stop France attacks, then their training Brazil’s police will serve no use”, as reported by Site Intel.
– On Thursday July 21, 2016 the Brazilian police conducted operation “Hashtag”, neutralizing a cell of ten Islamists that were communicating through Whatsapp and Telegram. The group, spread in different parts of the country such as Amazonas, Ceará, Paraíba, Goiás, Minas, Rio, São Paulo, Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul and Mato Grosso, were invoking jihad, looking for training and were also about to purchase weapons.
– The constant presence on the web of Ismail Abdul Jabbar al-Brazili, a jihadist activist spreading extremist propaganda in Portuguese through blogs and YouTube. Al-Brazili claims to have been recruited by Abu Khalid al-Amirki, an American jihadist who was killed in battle in Syria.
– The infiltration of Islamist extremists was detected in some parts of the favelas of the Sao Paulo metropolitan area and in particular in the favela of San Bernardo, where local converts, mostly coming from a rap and hiphop background, are now active in extremist proselytism. The fear is that potential wannabe jihadists could purchase weapons inside the favelas and conduct an attack against soft targets.
Overall the situation seems to be fully under control; the Brazilian intelligence has so far done well and the counter-terror units are ready to take actions, but hopefully they such situation will not occur.