Brazil’s Federal Police (PF) have announced that the ten people arrested as part of Operation Hashtag on suspicion of terror plotting were transferred to a maximum security federal prison in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul. The arrests took place in ten different states.
The suspects face charges of advancing a terrorist organization and carrying out activities in preparation for terrorist attacks, both of which are outlined in the Anti-Terrorism Act. Under this law, terrorism can carry jail sentences of 12-30 years.
Operation Hashtag began in April with the Counter-terrorism Division monitoring social media. The arrested suspects were on an online group called Defenders of Sharia (the Islamic law) and planned to buy weapons for criminal activity in Brazil and even in other countries.
Brazil’s Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes said that the arrest of ten people suspected of planning terrorist acts for the Rio 2016 Olympics has relied on information obtained in collaboration with foreign intelligence services.
“Several intelligence services from a number of countries helped us in our monitoring efforts by sharing information,” the minister said during an event that marked the beginning of the Federal Highway Police operations in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
He said the Federal Police has a dedicated counterterrorism unit, the Integrated Anti-Terrorism Center (CIANT), which works in collaboration with six countries: Argentina, United States, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Paraguay.
The minister has repeatedly said that the group arrested Thursday was amateur, and that most of them had never even met, except for two men who had served a six-year jail sentence together for murder.
“That group was absolutely amateurish, so much so that just days ahead of the Olympics, the alleged leader — because most of the communication came from him — was asking the others to take martial arts and shooting training. There were no professionals whether to commit terrorist acts or any other crime,” he said.
Moraes said the amateur nature of the plot does not eliminate “the need for prompt government action. We will promptly respond at any evidence of preparatory action to prevent the advancement of any plans to disrupt the Olympics.”
The ten Brazilian nationals suspected of being linked to Islamic State, are 20 to 40 years old, reported Federal Judge Marcos Josegrei da Silva, tasked with the case.
“We’ve got a group of people who praise terrorists. I’ve learned about people who show this kind of behavior and act in groups. That is enough to justify their temporary imprisonment,” he pointed out, adding, however, that the evidence collected so far still does not confirm that the group was planning to carry out a terrorist attack in the country.
“What’s being stated is that, taking what we have into view, that was the best measure to bring the investigation to a conclusion. Now, I don’t have enough information to say it was a group that was about to carry out a terrorist attack. The police authorities will sort that out, with whatever they manage to get through search and seizure orders,” he added.
“What I can say is that they’re different ages, but they’re still young, not much older than that, maybe 20 to 40 years old,” Josegrei said. According to the judge, their preventive detention is justified as it makes it less likely for those under scrutiny to commit any criminal act over the course of the investigation.
According to Josegrei, none among the investigated is Arabic, even though they were using Arabic pseudonyms to communicate on social media. “It’s not their Christian names. They adopted those names to better identify themselves as a terrorist group.”
The judge dismissed the idea that one of the arrested Brazilians is a leader, and said that the group is being investigated for actions carried out after March 19, when the Anti-terrorism Law was brought into effect. According to investigators, the group used the internet as its main means of communication.
“[We’re talking about] statements on the internet and social media. They’re statements made online. The arrests and searches are ways to get evidence and learn more about the whole thing,” the judge argued.
France Asks for More Security
Brazil’s Foreign Ministry confirmed it received a request from the French government to step up security in the latter’s representations in the country, which include the embassy, consulates, French schools, and Alliance Française branches.
According to the Foreign Ministry’s press office, a request was sent to public security secretariats in states with one or two French representations in them.
According to the Brazilian ministry, the French government did not provide further clarifications. France, however, has been facing attacks against civilians in crowded locations. On July 14, a truck was driven into a crowd of dozens of people during Bastille Day celebrations, in Nice. A couple of days later, an extremist Islam State group claimed to be responsible for the incident.
In November last year, Paris experienced a night of horror, as a series of attacks in seven spots across the city left 129 dead and some 300 wounded. One of the attacks took place at a club named Bataclan, another near the Stade de France, where the French were playing a friendly soccer game against the Germans.