National Security

Brazil detains suspected ISIS sympathizer ahead of Olympic Games

Security at the Olympics

As athletes start arriving in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the start of the Olympics, the country is on edge with threats of terrorism.
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As athletes start arriving in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the start of the Olympics, the country is on edge with threats of terrorism.

A Brazilian suspected of being an Islamic State sympathizer has been taken into custody here, his lawyer confirmed Thursday, adding to security concerns with the start of the Olympic Games just days away.

Brazilian authorities said little about the detention of Chaer Kalaoun in Nova Iguazu, part of the gritty and sprawling concrete metropolitan periphery that makes up the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

Attorney Edison Ferreira de Lima told McClatchy by cellphone that reports were correct that Kalaoun had been detained Wednesday night and was being held in Rio.

Chaer Kalaoun allegedly returned from a trip to Lebanon in 2013 with the black flags of the Islamic State.

Ferreira said that by mid-afternoon he had still not seen any formal charges or allegations against Kalaoun, described in news reports as having grown up in Lebanon and working for a family business that sold clothes and cars.

“We still don’t have anything,” said Ferreira.

The daily Folha de Sao Paulo was among the first to report the news, and said Kalaoun had allegedly returned from a trip to Lebanon in 2013 with the black flags of the Islamic State. It also reported, without attribution, that U.S. authorities had monitored Kalaoun for social media postings in favor of ISIS and alerted Brazilian authorities. This was neither confirmed nor denied by U.S. intelligence officials.

In various statements to the media, Ferreira denied his client had any terror ties or sympathized with the Islamic State. Kalaoun’s detention followed Operation Hashtag, the detention July 21 of 10 men across 10 states in Brazil for allegedly planning an attack during the games.

Brazilian authorities said the men had communicated via social media and allegedly tried to procure smuggled automatic weapons from neighboring Paraguay, but the seriousness of their enterprise was unclear. Police portrayed them as amateurs.

The spate of detentions has added to a list of problems in the run up to the Olympics, which begin Aug. 5 and go through Aug. 21. Several delegations have complained about the poor conditions of athletes’ accommodations, and many essential projects are being completed in the final week before the start.

I think it is well worth remembering that beyond these detentions Brazil wants to show it is aware of the risks.

Mauricio Santoro, political scientist as the State University of Rio de Janeiro

Kalaoun’s detention marks the second use of Brazil’s new and sweeping anti-terror law that gives authorities greater powers to detain suspects during ongoing investigations and carries prison sentences in terror case of up to 30 years, the longest allowed under Brazilian law.

The law was passed in February but then-President Dilma Rouseff vetoed some portions, including a section that had made it a crime to condone acts of terror.

Critics of the final law signed by the president in March complained it was too vague in its definitions and said that most of what it included was already written into law.

Among the chief concerns, however, was language that allowed penalties for “preparatory acts,” which is likely to get a test with the first detentions under the new law this month. The Operation Hashtag suspects were described as having been in the planning stages of an attack but had not actually acquired weapons.

“This is very big for the Brazilian judicial system since for a long time terrorism was not specified under Brazilian law,” said Mauricio Santoro, a foreign affairs expert at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ).

Brazil’s neighbors, Argentina and Paraguay, have had to deal with terror attacks or wanted terrorists, but the experience is a new one for Brazilian courts.

“There hasn’t been anything like this until now,” said Santoro. “Our prosecutors don’t have any experience in this. Many Brazilians feel this terror threat as distant, something that happens in other countries, and make jokes about this process.”

Kevin G. Hall: 202-383-6038, @KevinGHall

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