RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian police have arrested 10 people suspected of planning terrorist attacks during the Rio Olympics, Brazilian prosecutors in the southern state of Parana said Thursday.
The 10, all Brazilians, had declared loyalty to the Islamic State and were communicating via cellphone messenger services Telegram and WhatsApp to plan attacks during the Summer Games, which open Aug. 5, Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes told reporters in the capital, Brasilia. The arrests took place in 10 different states, and police have arrest warrants for two more suspects.
“Operation Hashtag, triggered by federal police this Thursday morning, investigates the possible participation of Brazilians in a criminal organization with international reach, as an Islamic State cell in this country,” the prosecutor’s office in Parana said in a statement. It added that “12 arrest warrants for temporary custody of 30 days were issued and may be extended for 30 more.”
De Moraes said the group’s leader was based in Curitiba, capital of Parana state.
Only four of the suspects had met personally, but they had declared loyalty to the Islamic State and discussed practicing shooting and martial arts, de Moraes said. One had began emailed negotiations to buy an AK-47 assault rifle on the Internet, he said.
“One of them that we managed to rapidly trace entered into contact with a site of clandestine arms sales in Paraguay, looking to buy an AK-47 rifle to carry out an operation. This is a crucial moment that shows as preparatory act,” Moraes said.
Small arms are easily available in Paraguay, which has a porous border with Brazil. Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) officials have expressed concern about the ease with which a “lone wolf” terrorist could buy arms there and bring them to Brazil. Traffic from the Paraguyan border city, Ciudad del Este, to Foz de Iguacu in Brazil frequently does not even get stopped, despite regular arms smuggling.
The group commemorated the attacks in Nice and Orlando.
The arrests come at a time of mounting concern over the possibility of a terrorist attack in Brazil. In April, ABIN said it had monitored a tweet from an Islamic State member threatening: “Brazil you are next.” This month the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors terrorist activity, reported that pro-Islamic State messages were being traded via Telegram in Portuguese and that propaganda had been translated into Portuguese.
Brazilian security forces have been carrying out anti-terrorist drills in Rio ahead of the Games.
De Moraes said no more details of the people arrested would be released for the time being.
“Apparently . . . it was an absolutely amateur cell with no preparation,” de Moraes said. He quoted a recent message that said: “Let’s train marital arts” and another that said, “Let’s learn how to shoot.”