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Brazil arrests 10 for allegedly plotting Islamic State-inspired attack on Olympics

The justice minister described the group as “an amateur, disorganized cell” that had celebrated the recent attacks in Orlando and Nice, and been planning to buy guns from Paraguay.

by Donna Bowater
Jul 21 2016, 5:21pm

Photo de Antonio Lacerda/EPA

Brazil has arrested 10 people who were allegedly preparing an Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack during next month's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Alexandre de Moraes, the country's justice minister, said intelligence services began monitoring the Brazilian nationals in April and that federal police arrested them on Thursday morning in Operação Hashtag, or Operation Hashtag.

Moraes said the group — from 10 states around Brazil — had begun discussing carrying out an attack during the Olympics, though they had not mentioned any specific targets, and had celebrated the recent attacks in Orlando and Nice.

He said a plan to buy guns in Paraguay forced the authorities to take the threat more seriously.

"The attempt to buy firearms was one of these preparatory acts," Moraes said, stressing that the purchases had not yet been made. "It was an amateur, disorganized cell but no security agency can ignore facts of this nature, hence the arrests."

The minister said that the group called itself Defenders of Sharia on social networks, and started out by sharing sympathetic messages about Islamic State on applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram. He added there was no evidence that the members had met each other, or maintained any direct contact with Islamic State, or left the country.

The suspects will be held for 30 days with the possibility of a 30-day extension while the case against them is being built.

The operation comes amid heightened security fears around the Games following the events in Nice.

Related: Activists Planning Protests at Rio Olympics Are Worried They Could Be Charged With Terrorism

Earlier this week, interim president Michel Temer refuted information that a Brazilian had plotted a terror attack against the French delegation during the Games. An anti-bomb squad also carried out a controlled explosion of a suspected bomb in the north of Rio that was later found to be a fake. Security forces, which have been reinforced on the request of Rio's acting governor, have also been carrying out anti-terror exercises around the city.

"The likelihood of terrorist acts is minimal, but with any possibility, we will act firmly," Minister Moraes said on Thursday.

The arrests are the first carried out under Brazil's new anti-terror legislation that was criticized by activists as a veiled justification for cracking down on potential social protests in the crisis-ridden country.

Related: Most Brazilians think the Olympics are not worth it, a poll shows

Follow Donna Bowater on Twitter: @DonnaBow

Islamic State
Sao Paulo
rio de janeiro
Olympic Games
Alexandre Moraes