Brazilian authorities arrested 10 people loyal to the Islamic State who were believed to be planning attacks during the Summer Olympics, a government official confirmed Thursday.
Investigators say those arrested were discussing targets in Rio, which leads them to believe they were planning attacks during the Olympics. Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes said the group was part of a “novice cell” and that “they went from simply making comments about the Islamic State and terrorism to preparatory acts.”
The arrested were in nine different states and are accused of having made contact online with the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The suspects are Brazilians. Ten people were arrested and two others were being sought.
The arrests come just two weeks before the Summer Olympics open in Rio. Brazilian magazine Epoca reported that the anti-terrorism division of Brazil’s federal police agency made arrests as part of a covert operation.
Moraes said there were no specific targets for an attack.
Federal police monitored messages exchanged on social networks, where the individuals allegedly laid out plans to attack Olympic venues and talked about purchasing weapons, Epoca reported. The court-approved intercept of the communications found the group had sworn an allegiance to the Islamic State.
Investigators referred to the group as an ISIS cell in a news release.
Moraes said the communications including messages sent and received from WhatsApp, a smartphone application that has drawn the ire of the Brazilian government. WhatsApp has been shut down by judicial order multiple times in Brazil in recent months, barring mobile carriers from transmitting data from the app.
It’s estimated WhatsApp is used by 100 million Brazilians.
WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, does not store the data and the messages are encrypted. Diego Dzodan, Facebook’s vice president for Latin America, was arrested in March and held for nearly 24 hours for refusing to release messages as part of a drug-trafficking investigation; an appeals court overturned the lower court’s decision to arrest Dzodan.
Brazil enacted new anti-terror laws in the months leading up to the Summer Games, which will commence with opening ceremonies on Aug. 5.