Brazil Beefing Up Rio Olympic Security After France Attack

  • Islamic State planned attack on French Olympic athletes in Rio
  • Rio economic crisis adds to concern over security plans

Brazil said it will implement stricter security measures for the Rio Olympics in the wake of the third major attack in France in less than two years.

The plan includes more checkpoints and traffic restrictions during the event that officials estimate will bring an additional 350,000 to 500,000 tourists to Rio de Janeiro next month. Security forces working in the city will also get a 150 percent increase in per-diems, according to a decree signed by Acting President Michel Temer on Friday.

“We’re still in shock following the tragedy that hit France,” General Sergio Etchegoyen, the institutional security minister who oversees Brazil’s intelligence agency, told reporters in Brasilia. “We need to audit our plans to see if there are any gaps that, for some reason, might have escaped our attention.” 

While Brazil hasn’t been a traditional target for terrorism, concern about the security of the Olympic Games has been on the rise as a number of attacks in France, Brussels and the U.S. put the world on high alert. A Tunisian living in France on Thursday killed 84 people and injured 202 during a Bastille Day celebration by plowing through them with a rented truck.

A deep financial crisis that has forced the state of Rio to delay salary payments to public servants, including police officials, has also contributed to security concerns.

Islamic State

The Islamic State was planning an attack against French athletes in Rio as they compete in the Olympics, according to a congressional hearing of France’s military intelligence chief made public this week. Following the coordinated November attacks in Paris, Maxime Hauchard, an Islamic State member, tweeted: “Brazil, you’re our next target.”

Defense Minister Raul Jungmann said Brazil hasn’t received any indication of terror threats from the countries that participate in a joint counter-terrorism center. Yet the attack in Nice will “translate into more control, more security, more people and procedures that will be expanded,” he told reporters in Rio.

The Rio Olympics will be the first to have a counter-terrorism center, with at least three representatives of seven countries working with Brazilian agents, Andrei Rodrigues, the state’s security secretary for major events, told reporters in Rio earlier this month.

Rio will also have more than 85,000 security forces, of which more than 40 percent correspond to the marines, air force and other branches of the national military.

While quantity is not the same as quality, Brazil is unlikely to see an attack on the scale of Nice or harbor a cell of militants, according to Daniel Caplin, an analyst at the Brazilian branch of risk consultancy S-RM. That said, preparation for terrorist attacks had been lacking until the coordinated attacks on Paris last November that served as a wake-up call and prompted a scramble to improve strategy, he said. Cooperation with other nations has also been stepped up.

“In the same way that the metro will be done at the last minute, it will be done, but it won’t be the best job,” Caplin said in an interview, referring to the repeatedly-delayed subway expansion for Olympic spectators that’s set to start operations four days before the games. “It’s always extremely challenging to stop a lone wolf.”

Police Morale

With Rio state’s finances in ruin and salaries delayed, morale among police officers has fallen to its lowest ever, according to a high-ranking official in the military police who is unauthorized to speak publicly. National guard troops have had payments delayed, been working more than 12 hours a day and sleeping on mattresses on the floor at temporary housing, according to local media reports. 

Bunk beds arrived on Thursday and new uniforms and personnel are being sent to Rio, Justice Ministry spokesman Allan de Carvalho said in an e-mail. Per diem payments were delayed for about 5 percent of soldiers due to errors in filling out documentation, and the problem is being rectified, he said.

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