The arrests were made in a series of raids in 10 states in Brazil, the ministry said. A ministry representative told ABC News that at least one of the people arrested was under 18 years old. Moraes said that no specific target was threatened and that while the threat was “minimal,” authorities would crack down hard on any suspected plots.
The arrests come just days after an alleged extremist group in Brazil, calling itself Ansar al-Khilafah Brazil, pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A defense ministry spokesperson told ABC News that the recent arrests were unrelated to Ansar al-Khilafah.
Recently a jihadist on the messaging app Telegram called for people to carry out various lone wolf attacks on the Rio Olympics, which begin next month.
After Ansar al-Khilafah’s announcement, however, several counterterrorism experts told ABC News they questioned whether the group was real. ISIS is not known to have much influence in Brazil. There are small pockets of the population that follow Islam, according to a 2010 census, and just a tiny percentage of Brazilians are Muslims, much less Islamic extremists.
Only three individuals are said to have traveled from Brazil to Syria or Iraq to fight with extremist groups there, according to the Soufan Group, compared with an estimated 1,700 from France and 250 from the U.S.
As recently as last month, a former counterterrorism official told ABC News that there was “no credible ISIS-related threat to the 2016 games.”
“It’s not impossible, but ISIS has other areas in the world where it is much easier for them to operate,” the former official said.
Still, with the Rio Olympics right around the corner, Brazilian officials reportedly consider the terrorism threat high.
In June the chairman of Brazil’s joint chiefs of staff told Reuters that after terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, “a bell went off in terms of terrorism.”