The Threat of Extremist Terrorism in Brazil

The Threat of Extremist Terrorism in Brazil

By André Luís Woloszyn
July 13, 2016

Recent information collected by government and private intelligence agencies of the international community led Brazilian authorities to reclassify the level of risk related to the probability of terrorist attacks during the Rio Olympics and Paralympics Games of 2016. Among information analyzed is the arrest by the Federal Police in the State of Santa Catarina of a Brazilian allegedly belonging to the Islamic State group. He kept a systematic training routine with elite sniper weapons and was found in possession of military manuals that came from Syria. In addition, threats of attacks have appeared in social media and a Portuguese-language communication platform was created by the United Cyber Caliphate using the Telegram and WhatsApp instant messaging apps, for the purpose of recruitment and political-religious indoctrination. Finally, there are Brazilians who were classified by the country’s intelligence services as highly radicalized individuals or independent radicals, similar to what has been happening in some European Community countries. It is possible that many of these individuals have already sworn allegiance to the Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and, consequently, would already have created the conditions required to engage in terrorist actions in the name of and recommended by the Islamic State. There are also other related issues requiring closer attention, such as the recent information provided by the U.S. Federal Immigration Service on the existence of a network engaged in trafficking people to the United States who go through the Brazilian territory. According to the Service, the presence of Pakistanis, Palestinians and Afghans suspected of terrorist activities in the Middle East was already detected. It is estimated that a portion of these individuals opted to remain in Brazil, in locations and under circumstances which are still unknown. This context demonstrates the increased interest Brazil holds for some leaders and militants of international terrorist organizations; the country constitutes a fertile and as yet untapped territory, either as a potential target for attacks during special events – such as the one taking place soon in Rio de Janeiro – opening the way to mass murder actions, or as a way to set up bases and plan future operations in other countries. These are signs that cannot be underestimated or minimized since Brazil, due to its continental dimensions, and the coexistence between and welcoming of different population groups, may now be considered as a new and alternative actor, part of a much wider strategy to expand international terrorism. Notice the timely creation of a Portuguese-language website, as it took place in a tumultuous political moment when radicalization is on the rise in this country. Historically, this has been a major factor for the flourishing of new ideologies and charismatic leadership. By the same token, other internal factors contribute to a pro-terrorism environment, among them closer relations with criminal organizations involved in drugs and arms trafficking, corruption of public agents, deficiencies in overseeing access to and control of illegal immigrants, as well as political instability. On the other hand, from the analysis of recent terrorist attacks, over the 2015-2016 period, committed by the Islamic State terrorist group, we can conclude that lone wolves are, in fact, the central piece of its international strategy to launch small-scale attacks in different countries. We could also say that lone wolves are the greatest threats to the Olympic Games. The level of risk increases as a result of the special characteristics of this form of armed action. These individuals are self-taught in terms of operations, their actions area based on the principles of opportunity and convenience, and they are not connected with international or regional networks but use them as their model and inspiration for their practices. The fact they function within an urban environment where they move about at great ease is another complicating factor, since there is no easily identifiable biotype or profile. All these factors together make it difficult for security agents to perform their surveillance work, and it brings about a permanent sensation of lack of safety; further, it leads to possible assessment errors when operating under the premise that all persons appear to be suspects. In view of this scenario, international terrorism is already manifesting in the country to a certain extent, through the anticipated psychological effects of lack of safety and tension, thus accomplishing part of its indoctrination purposes. Actions perpetrated by lone wolves appear to be the greatest challenge for security and defense authorities in their concentrated and coordinated efforts toward a preventive detection. And, even so, there is no guarantee of complete success, because even countries with evident expertise in dealing with this criminal phenomenon, are constant targets of international terrorism. *André Luís Woloszyn is a Strategic Matters Analyst, has a Master's Degree in Law, and is a member of the Center for Security Studies of the School-Foundation of Sociology and Politics of São Paulo.
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