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Brazil Arrests 10 For Planning Attacks Against Next Month's Rio Olympics


The Rio Olympics have been beset by many woes, from polluted bays to rising crime and the Zika virus. Now, just a couple of weeks before the torch arrives, a new challenge, terrorism. Ten men were arrested there yesterday for being involved in an alleged terrorist plot targeting the games. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro joins us from Rio. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: And let's start with what you know about what these men were supposedly planning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brazil's minister of justice gave a press conference yesterday in which he said the group was trying to procure a weapon in order to carry out some sort of shooting attack on the games. You know, apparently, some of the members of the group were inspired by Islamic State. They pledged allegiance to them online but apparently had no contact. The group were described as supporting gender violence and religious intolerance. And they have been arrested, and they're now being questioned.

MONTAGNE: And what do we know about the men themselves?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's really interesting, actually. First of all, they're all Brazilian. So they're all local. They don't come from Muslim backgrounds. Some of them, at least, are recent converts to Islam. One is actually called Israel, a biblical name that's common among Christians in Latin America.

You know, we've seen some of the family members, since those arrests, discuss the case in the media. One of the arrested men raises chickens in a rural state. And he was described by his father, who was quoted in one of the main papers here this morning as an idiot who started talking with people he didn't know about things he didn't understand. The family are Catholic, and they said that they're dying of shame, in the paper.

You know, according to the judge, who also spoke yesterday about the case - and he's overseeing it - he said that the group communicated through messaging apps called WhatsApp and Telegram. And they were apparently praising recent terrorist attacks in their communications. But you know, ultimately, Renee, it's really, I think, not clear how much further the group had gotten in their alleged planning. It's an - you know, I think an unusual profile for an alleged terror cell.

MONTAGNE: Although the Brazilian government - I mean, how worried is it about either this group or about terrorism generally during the games?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, well, this group was called yesterday amateur and disorganized by the authorities. But they did say that, of course, any attempt on the games should be taken seriously. And so therefore, these men were arrested. Generally speaking, of course, they are very concerned. And that has only increased after the attack in Nice. You know, we do know that the Islamic State has released a propaganda in Portuguese to inspire something like what apparently these men were planning.

And of course, any Olympics is always a target, as we know. You know, these games will be the most policed in the history of the Olympics, with 85,000 security forces on the street. That's, you know, double what the London Summer Games had. You can see them out on the street now. The city is feeling very, very militarized.

MONTAGNE: So Brazil is pretty prepared?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, certainly Brazil says that it's prepared. It's been working with many international intelligence agencies. It's important to note that this operation, where they arrested these men, had the involvement of some of those international agencies. So it is preparing, and it has had help.

But, you know, if you do speak to experts, they say that Brazil has been too late; it is not as prepared as it should be and that that preparation has been haphazard. But authorities here say, you know, they are ready for the games and that everyone coming here will be safe.

MONTAGNE: Lulu, thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro, speaking to us from Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.