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Latin America

Brazil police arrest suspects planning terror attacks ahead of Rio Olympics

Ten members of a cell sympathetic to the Islamic State had tried to acquire weapons.
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21 Jul 2016 – 11:49 AM EDT

Today Brazilian federal police arrested 10 Brazilians allegedly planning acts of terrorism prior to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, which begin August 5.

Nicknamed Operation Hashtag, 130 police made arrests in 10 Brazilian states, Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes said during a press conference. International intelligence agencies were part of the operation. The suspects' names have not been released, though one minor was taken into custody.

Several suspects tried to make online contact with the Islamic State to swear loyalty but had no communication with the terrorist group, the minister said. Group members, who were all Brazilian, never met in person.

The suspects, which de Moraes called a "cell," communicated via online groups and chat apps like Whatsapp and Telegram and began plotting attacks similar to the Orlando shooting. They shared Islamic State execution videos and celebrated attacks in Orlando and Nice, the minister said.

However, de Moraes called the suspects "amateur" and "disorganized," saying they had attempted to purchase an AK-47 online from Paraguay. They did not have bomb materials or funding, and had no specific target, he said. The cell's leader lived in Paraná state, located more than 700 miles away from Rio de Janeiro state.

The police anti-terrorism unit began investigating suspects in April, following their posts on Twitter and Facebook and tapping their phones, according to a federal police statement. Members were part of an online group called Defenders of Sharia and planned to acquire weapons to commit crimes in Brazil and other countries.

The arrests were the first made under Brazil's new anti-terrorism law, passed earlier this year.

"Public security should be of greater concern than terrorism, given the amateurism of this cell," de Moraes said.

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