Fears of terrorism and violence grow like lightning in Rio ahead of Olympics

Soldiers and police officers took control of the streets of Rio de Janeiro, as part of the operation to bring security to the city hosting the Olympic Games.


It happens so frequently in Brazil, that it even has a name, a “lightning kidnapping.”

That’s when a person is forced to withdraw money from cash machines by robbers, often at gunpoint, and that’s what New Zealand jiu-jitsu fighter, Jason Lee, claimed happened to him. 

What made the athlete’s story more shocking, however was that the crime allegedly was committed by military policemen from Rio de Janeiro state, the very people who are supposed to protect people from such acts.

Lee’s story hit the media 10 days before the first Olympic competitions – which start on Aug. 3, two days before the Opening Ceremony at Rio’s Maracanā soccer stadium – and it is far from an isolated case.

The incidence of violent crime in greater Rio de Janeiro increased in every category in May, the most recently-released data, from the year before. There were a record number of homicides: 338 of them, almost the same number as take place in New York City – in a year. Street theft grew about 43 percent.

The crime classified as "homicide due to opposition to the police" is used by many to measure police brutality, and it increased 90 percent from last year. In fact, according to sociologist Gabriela Santos, police violence is likely to increase in neighborhoods where the competitions are taking place, as security forces attempt to "inhibit the actions of petty thieves."

"No one will be paying attention to what happens in the slums,” Santos told Fox News Latino. “Whatever the police do there will probably go unnoticed, as happened during the World Cup [in 2014]. We can see some signs already, like the increase of people 'accidentally’ shot by police in recent months. But you also have to see that we have a police that is not being paid and in terrible conditions, risking their lives every day, it's a lot of pressure, possibility that those actions will go as planned are small. It's a gunpowder barrel ready to explode."

In the high-profile case of Lee, two officers were arrested on Tuesday. While their names were not released, Rio’s Military Police issued a statement saying, "The Military Police does not tolerate deviations from professional conduct. Such acts disappoint the almost 50,000 honest military police officers who fight crime daily."

Despite urban violence being so prevalent in Rio, the country’s Minister of Defense, Raul Jungmann, identified terrorism as “the biggest challenge of the games." In the last week a group of 12 people who pledged their allegiance to ISIS were arrested on suspicions of planning an attack on the Olympics, and a second possible ISIS cell was also identified.

For the next 64 days, about 22,000 soldiers of the Brazilian Army, Navy and Air Force will be patrolling the main roads and the the areas hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

But despite the high state of alert, the Olympic Park where many of the events will be played and the Olympic Village where the athletes are staying aren’t prepared to deal with or detect possible threats, experts and journalists who have been on site have reported. 

At the entrance to both Village and Park only some of the X-ray machines and metal detectors were operational.

The company initially contracted to provide the security service – a small firm from the state of Santa Catarina which had little experience handling security at large-scale events or knowledge about Rio de Janeiro or about terrorism – was so criticized in the Brazilian press that organizers replaced it just days before the start of the games.

On Monday, the Rio company, Sunset Surveillance, took over security. Before that, there were only a few members of the Military Police who were doing cursory checks on people entering the Olympic Village.

There are other worries, to be sure. On Wednesday, the mayor of the city of Rio, Eduardo Paes, admitted that the Village isn’t ready, blaming the Olympic Committee for the situation.

Only 19 out 31 buildings have passed all the inspection tests – including ones dealing with security.

On Monday, the Australian team refused to stay in its assigned housing, complaining about conditions in the room like flooded floors, broken elevators, mold and holes in the ceiling.

The Italian team also refused to stay in its accommodations and was considering paying to fix the problems. A small fire broke out in the Dutch building broke on Saturday and reports of gas leaks surfaced, showing that the complex’s infrastructure – gas, electricity and water –still aren’t ready.

Authorities say the problems will be fixed shortly.

Journalist Lúcio de Castro pointed out in an article for the UOL news website that promises were made to the IOC about tight patrolling of the "Triple Frontier" – Brazil's border with Argentina and Paraguay.

Castro reported that Ministry of Defense documents sent to the IOC at the time of the Rio bid to host the games was being filed describe the area as being "reputed to be a base for terror groups.”

He wrote, "The region has [as many as] 30,000 immigrants in the Arab community. Most of them Lebanese people from the region where Hezbollah was born, the Bekaa Valley, near the Israeli border."

While organizers at the time promised strict patrols of the Triple Frontier, Castro said, such patrols aren’t taking place now.

Security-systems engineer Moacyr Duarte, of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), says the state has worked with international investigators to curb the activity of terrorist organizations.

"The biggest problem it is urban violence in the city,” Duarte told FNL. “If an attack occurs [at the Olympics], Brazil would not be the direct target, more likely the scene of an attack which would aim to hurt the delegations of countries that have taken stronger actions in the Middle East."

Antonio José, a banker and resident in Leme Beach near Copabacana who was robbed on his way home recently, finds it difficult to believe authorities on the matter of security.

"They say that security will increase, but we don’t see it,” he told FNL. “Now they say there won’t be any terrorist attacks, but how can we trust that? We have a huge frontier, we border a lot of other countries and we can't patrol the entrances, blocking out people from South America trying to get in."