SAO PAULO – Brazilian authorities detained an Arab who ran a Web site forum that could be linked to terrorists and included anti-American statements in Arabic, a prosecutor said Tuesday night.
The Arab resident of Brazil was not identified and a court ordered his release after police investigated, federal prosecutor Ana Leticia Absy said in a statement.
Absy said Brazil police were alerted to the presence of the closed Web site by the FBI, obtained judicial permission to investigate it and concluded it could be connected "to a terrorist group."
But Absy stressed in a statement that no evidence has been uncovered suggesting the moderator was actually a member of a terrorist group.
The statement was issued after a columnist for the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper reported Tuesday that the man was suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda. Prior to the statement's release, a federal police spokeswoman confirmed for The Associated Press that the man was suspected of being a key player in Al Qaeda's international communications. She spoke on condition of anonymity, in keeping with department policy.
Police later declined comment when pressed for more details, and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told reporters he had been informed about the arrest by the Justice Ministry but added that "for now, there are no grounds to accuse anyone."
Police obtained an order for the man to be detained and to seize his computers, but Absy said no evidence was uncovered indicating "that the man detained in Sao Paulo is a member of any terrorist organization." The FBI was informed of the results of the investigation and asked to be kept apprised for intelligence purposes, the statement said.
A court ordered the man's release after he was detained for 21 days because he has a fixed residence in Brazil and is in the country legally, Absy said.
Prosecutors described the content of the Web forum as "deplorable," saying it included messages about hatred of Americans and religious intolerance. The investigation is continuing to determine whether charges could be filed under Brazil laws that make promotion of racial intolerance a crime.
A U.S. official confirmed that the suspect was charged more than a month ago on non-terrorism charges. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the case, said Brazilian officials are investigating whether he has connections to Al Qaeda operatives.
An FBI spokesman referred all questions about the matter to Brazilian authorities.
Brazil is home to one of the largest Arab populations outside the Middle East, with most living in Sao Paulo and in Foz do Iguacu, a hotbed of smuggling and contraband in the so-called Tri-Border region near Argentina and Paraguay.
U.S. officials have been concerned for years that the Tri-Border region could be a fundraising center for Hezbollah and Hamas — although a recent U.S. State Department report said there was no confirmation "that these or other Islamic extremist groups had an operational presence in the region."