‘Credible threat’ that ISIS will target the Rio Olympics

Authorities in this year’s Olympic host Brazil detected users exchanging messages in Portuguese linked to ISIS in an online web forum, intelligence services said Friday.

The warning raised security concerns about the potential existence of sympathizers of the terrorist group in Brazil, which was previously thought to be relatively free of Islamic extremism.

The Brazilian Intelligence Agency said in a statement Friday that it “confirms the existence of a group and its way of operating” online with jihadist messages.

It said the group was found on Telegram, an online messaging application.

“Content relating to extremist ideologies is translated to Portuguese and reproduced in that instant messaging application,” the agency said.

The group was first detected by the SITE Intelligence Group, a non-government group that monitors extremist communications online.

SITE issued an alert saying that people linked to ISIS were thought to be spreading messages from the group in Portuguese.

Brazilian authorities are on high alert ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro from August 5 to 21.

“The opening of this new front in the spreading of information for extremist indoctrination, aimed at the Portuguese-speaking public, increases the complexity of the job of tackling terrorism,” the intelligence agency said in its statement. “It represents an additional means of radicalizing Brazilian citizens.”

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.

However, counter terrorism director Luiz Alberto Sallaberry said in a statement the threat had increased in recent months due to attacks in other countries, and a rise in what he described as the number of Brazilian nationals suspected of sympathising with ISIS terrorists.

Sallaberry also confirmed that a credible threat to state security had been made last year.

A tweet threatening Brazil sent in November by Maxime Hauchard, a French national identified as an executioner in ISIS propaganda videos, was genuine.

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The tweet read: ‘Brazil, you are our next target.’

Sallaberry said his agency had taken several measures to avert a potential attack, including sharing information with foreign security forces and improved training.

But security experts have warned that many Brazilian officials do not realize how big a stage the Olympics is for anyone seeking to sow terror, either through an attack on game venues, infrastructure nearby or the athletes and 500,000 tourists expected to attend.

Brazilian officials, eager to pull off South America’s first Olympics after successfully hosting the soccer World Cup in 2014, have said previously they will ensure a safe games starting August 5.

Olympic organisers plan to deploy around 85,000 security personnel for the games, double the number used in London in 2012.

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