The terrorist threat at the Olympic Games is real, authorities say, but questions remain about whether Rio de Janeiro is prepared to prevent and react to one.
The Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN), which is partially responsible for the country's security during the Games this August, confirmed that Brazil has been singled out by a member of the Islamic State (ISIS) as a potential terrorist target.
The information was released by the director of counterterrorism, Luiz Alberto Sallaberry, who admitted that possibility of a terrorist attack has increased in recent months. The ISIS threat was made on Twitter shortly after the bombing that killed more than 150 people in France in November, ABIN confirmed.
“Brazil, you are our next target. We can attack this shit country," the message, whose author is 22-year-old Maxime Hauchard, said.
Hauchard was identified as one of the men who appears in videos of ISIS executing Syrians. Despite the threat, ABIN says the country is ready to combat and prevent possible terrorist attacks during the Games.
Agency spokespeople say they will draw on the experience of hosting other major events including the World Cup in 2014, World Youth Day in 2013 and the Pan American Games in 2007.
The head of Brazil’s Joint Staff of the Armed Forces, Admiral Ademir Sobrinho, is confident in the country’s ability to host a successful Olympics.
"We're testing our security plans and the readiness of the troops in July, and we are all coordinated and prepared to deliver a safe and quiet games," he said. "The armed forces are acquiring a lot of expertise in personnel preparation."
According to the government, a contingent of 38,000 military will join 47,000 police, municipal police, public security and civil defense personnel on security work during the games.
The Secretary of Great Events in Rio de Janeiro, Roberto Alzir, told Fox News Latino that protocols have been developed for many potential situations. "We did a series of exchanges with other police forces around the world, with courses in various fields such as counterterrorism, control of explosives, coordination. There are action protocols for all of the most serious situations [we could face], such as a terrorist attack."
The economic and political crisis facing the country is also a concern for its security forces.
Social protests turned into clashes with the police and riots during the Confederations Cup in 2013 – and to a lesser extent at the 2014 World Cup – and with an economy that has completely tanked, a corruption case embroiling a large number of people at the upper echelons of government and industry and a nasty political fight over the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, there is no reason to expect that can’t happen again.
"We don’t know what will the economic and political situation will be during the Games,” Alzir said. “It could be a major or a minor problem."
According to the Ministry of Justice, security investment for games stands at $100 million. The funds have been used to acquire protective equipment for personnel, training tools, anti-terrorism and other training of police officers, firefighters and municipal guards, as well as the expansion of electronic monitoring systems.
According to the ministry, the training has occurred during Olympic test events, such as equestrian, triathlon, rowing and cycling competitions, and also in the Olympic torch relay, which arrived in the country on May 3.
Criminal violence, a major problem in Rio, is also a security concern during the Games. Street crimes such as robberies, have increased dramatically in the city, according to the official statistics from the Public Security Institute (ISP).
The latest data from the institute shows that there was an increase of 40 percent in phone thefts, with 659 more cases in the first three months of this year compared to 2015. There was an increase also in theft of pedestrians (724 more cases, which is a 6.7 percent rise) and car thefts (up 14 percent, with 610 more cases).
This could change during the Olympics. According to Alzir, the increased police presence and monitoring will lower robberies.
"Urban violence is a risk, especially small theft and shoplifting. Large crowds always draw criminals, but we try to allocate more resources of police,” Alzir said. “There will also be camera monitoring and helicopters. One of the new technologies we’re employing are the Games are stationary balloons that will be about 200 meters [about 650 feet] high in the four Olympic zones, recording everything that occurs in a radius of 360 degrees, and can capture images to help police prevent or catch bad guys."
João Trajano, a researcher at the Laboratory for the Analysis of Criminal Violence at the State University of Rio, also believes that street crimes will spike during the competitions in tourist zones. He also warns that the rest of the city will be more vulnerable to criminals.
"The attention [of security personnel] will be focused on the events and ensuring the smooth operation of the Games,” Trajano told FNL. “So the areas that are already neglected will end up suffering the most, and this is unacceptable. The challenge that we can never win is to provide equal security to all places and all city dwellers."