A top Brazilian official regards crime a greater risk to the upcoming Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro than terrorism, a rational concern given Rio’s persistent struggles curbing violent criminal groups and improving citizen security.
In an interview with Folha de São Paulo, Brazilian Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes said he does not consider terrorism the top security threat to the Rio Olympics. “Crime is a greater concern than terrorism,” Moraes asserted.
The minister said Brazilian and international agencies consider the probability of a terrorist attack during the games to be extremely low, but that every anti-terrorism measure is being taken nonetheless.
In addition to terrorism, Moraes told Folha that public security and organized crime are major concerns for Rio, unlike previous Olympic cities such as London. To that end, Moraes said Rio’s anti-crime measures and the strengthening of security forces has required greater effort to prepare than counter-terrorism measures.
“Terrorism is more a question of intelligence and training, preparing protocols and protecting airports,” Moraes said.
Asked by Folha how Rio’s frequent clashes between criminal factions will be prevented from affecting the games, Moraes claimed there would be no problems during the Olympics due to the heavy security presence. “The problem will be before and after” the games, Moraes said.
Regarding the threat of individuals, or “lone wolves,” carrying out terrorist acts, Moraes said the risks are close to zero, and that any coordinated group plots would be easier to detect.
Recently, a Brazilian group called Ansar al-Khilafah pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), although some terrorism experts doubt the group actually exists and speculate it may be IS propaganda. Moraes said Brazil is monitoring the situation to avoid any surprises.
InSight Crime Analysis
Following a spate of recent terrorist attacks in France, concern has shifted to the possibility of attacks in Brazil as the Rio Olympic Games near. Set to begin August 5, the Olympics are undoubtedly a tempting target for groups like IS given the high profile, international nature of the event.
Nonetheless, Moraes’ emphasis on crime over terrorism reflects a reasonable assessment of the risks presented by both. For one, Brazil has a small Middle Eastern diaspora and Muslim population from which IS could draw sympathizers willing to conduct attacks. Previous concerns over Islamic terrorist groups in Brazil have focused on the tri-border region where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet, and where Lebanese group Hezbollah is known to have links. Yet past warnings over the threat posed by Hezbollah in Latin America appear to be exaggerated.
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In contrast, the threat posed by crime in Rio is much more immediate and known, and the city’s security situation has deteriorated during 2016. Beyond petty crime — such as muggings and theft — during the Olympics, Brazilian criminal groups like the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) pose a much more menacing risk. These criminal networks have thousands of members, are heavily armed, and control large swathes of Brazil’s marginalized favela neighborhoods, putting it within their power to significantly disrupt security during the games. For instance, in 2013 the PCC promised a “World Cup of terror” ahead of the 2014 soccer tournament in Brazil if the government failed to meet certain demands.
To ensure security during the games, Brazil is in the process of deploying about 85,000 police and military personnel in Rio.