Institutions and Competition

Extremism's Olympic moment

April 24, 2016

As Brazil’s political and economic crisis deepens a senior intelligence official has revealed that the nation is being targeted by Islamic State (IS).


From a security perspective the games take on a nationwide threat profile because the football tournament that is part of the Rio games will be played in major cities throughout Brazil, giving the event a FIFA World Cup feeling. 


The venues include Manaus in Amazonia State, Salvador in Bahia State, Fortaleza in the northeastern state of Ceara, Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais State, Rio, São Paulo and the Federal Capital, Brasilia.


Nearly all of these stadiums, which were built as venues for the 2014 FIFA Brazil World Cup, continue to be in the media spotlight because they are the focus of federal investigations that are connected, directly or indirectly, with the movement to remove president Dilma Rousseff from office.


Overall security will be provided by the National Force for Public Security, a multiorganizational force of around 85,000 from Brazil’s armed forces, police, and intelligence and security professionals. It is about twice the size of the force that provided security for the 2012 London Olympics.


Russia has intelligence and security professionals working with Brazil in support of the counterterrorism efforts.  The Russian presence is part of a joint effort among 60 nations who are helping to provide security for the Rio games.


Coordinating the diverse force amidst the political-psycholgical drama playing out in Brazil's crisis could present leadership issues that might be exploited by the fast moving, loosely structured tactics favored by extremist groups.


According to The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and Defensanet, a Brazilian online defense zine, a senior leader of the security group, Col. Adilson Moreira, resigned recently because he sent out an email to colleagues that the nation was being run by a group that lacked scruples including the president of the republic (Rousseff). 


A recent analysis article by the BBC (reported by Steven Eisenhammer and edited by Tom Brown) notes that “Brazil has long regarded itself as an unlikely target of extremists thanks to its historical standing as a non-aligned, multicultural nation that is free from enemies.”


The article went on to say that, according to  Luis Sallaberry, counterterrorism director of ABIN, Brazil's national intelligence service, the threat has  increased in recent months due to attacks in other countries, and a rise in what he describes as the number of Brazilian nationals suspected of sympathizing with Islamic State militants.


Media in Austria and France are reporting a pattern which finds extremists including Islamic State using immigration and political asylum to iniltrate operatives into Western Europe.


Brazil has granted political asylum (and residence and work permits) to around 2700 Syrian refugees, more than any other nation in the Americas. However, local media in Brazil report that many are struggling to assimilate into a big, sometimes unforgiving society.


The english version of al-Arabiya buzzed up the story, questioning the seriousness of the threat by Islamic State.  In London, The Daily Express ran with the story.  There was no major media coverge in the United States, however. And in Brazil, the threat story was quickly pushed out of the news cycle by the impeachment drama.  


Because Brazil prides itself on maintaiing excellent relations with Palestine, Iran, the Emirates, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern nations, it has become politically incorrect in Brazil to suggest that people of Middle Eastern heritage might be considered  extremists, or "helpers," or connected to them.  This makes the job of the 85,000 Brazilians protecting the nation's land and sea borders and providing security for the Rio Olympics all the more difficult.

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