By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Fifteen days to go before the start of the 2016 Olympics, ten men were arrested on Thursday, suspected of planning terrorist attacks in Rio de Janeiro during the Games. According to authorities all the men are Brazilians.
Brazil’s Justice Minister, Alexandre de Moraes, said the arrest of the ten Brazilians came after the group who called themselves Supporters of Sharia (Islamic law) started to exchange messages in social media about preparations for a terrorist attack in Brazil.
The operation, dubbed Hashtag, arrested the ten suspects in ten different Brazilian states: Amazonas, Ceará, Paraíba, Mato Grosso, Goias, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul.
According to investigations, although the group made a loyalty pledge on the Internet to the Islamic State, there is no evidence that any of these individuals had direct contact with members of the terrorist group.
Moraes emphasized that the group appeared extremely amateurish, with the wife of one of the suspects going as far as discussing some of the plan on her Facebook page. “It was an amateur cell without any planned preparation. An organized cell would not try to buy a gun on the Internet,” he added.
For Brazil’s Defense Minister, Raul Jungmann, an international task force has made sure that Brazil is prepared to handle any terrorist threat. “We are aligned with all major agencies and the world’s intelligence agencies, and we have made it clear that we are prepared; we are ready and we are able to anticipate any threats,” said Raul Jungmann, minister Defense.
The ten suspects were transferred on Friday morning to a maximum security prison in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul. They are expected to be charged with being part of a terrorist organization promoting and carrying out preparatory acts of terrorism, under Brazil’s Anti-Terrorism Act.
Rio de Janeiro’s security secretary, José Mariano Beltrame stated Thursday afternoon that despite the arrests there are no plans to change the city’s security plans.
Beltrame said anti-terrorist agents from other countries have been working alongside their Brazilian counterparts for the past few months, monitoring the Internet and chatter of possible attacks during the Games.
The secretary told reporters that although that so far there has been no evidence of any terrorist action in the country, it would be ‘foolish’ to say that there was no concern about terrorism during the mega-event.
Beltrame emphasized that the security implemented for the Olympics and Paralympics has been slowly constructed and improved over the years, as Rio and Brazil hosted mega world events such as the PanAmerican Games in 2007, the Military World Games in 2011, the World Youth Day and FIFA’s Confederations Cup in 2013, and the World Cup in 2014.