A Brazil judge has sentenced eight men to up to 15 years for plotting a jihadist attack on the 2016 Rio Olympics. Authorities described the group as an "amateur" and downplayed any ties to the so-called "Islamic State."
The eight Brazilian men were found guilty on Thursday of recruiting and promoting terrorism, and handed sentences of between five and 15 years
In his sentencing, Judge Marcos Josegrei da Silva said the men "exulted in and celebrated terrorist acts carried out around the world, publishing videos of executions by the Islamic State (group) and instructions on how to swear loyalty to the group's leader."
The 100-page sentence included images of the men extolling the so-called Islamic State (IS) group online and posing in front of a flag with the words "Islamic State" scrawled on it in Arabic.
The leader in question, according to Brazilian authorities, was 33-year-old Leonid El Kadrem, who received the longest sentence of 15 years and 10 months.
According to prosecutors, the group's communications were investigated between mid-March and July 21 last year, when the first series of arrests were announced just weeks before the start of the Games as part of an operation dubbed "Hashtag."
Brazil's then-justice minister Alexandre Moraes said the group had pledged their allegiance to the IS jihadist group but downplayed any links. "Some of them made an oath of loyalty by Internet to the Islamic State, but there was no personal contact by this group with Islamic State by WhatsApp," he said, adding that the group was "an absolutely amateur cell" and "disorganized."
The closest the group got to committing a concrete terrorist act was trying to buy black market weapons from a supplier in neighboring Paraguay. The group's members reportedly also encouraged each other to begin martial arts training.
With a reputation for being a hotbed for armed crime, authorities deployed some 85,000 police officers and military troops around Rio de Janeiro's Olympic venues.
New anti-terror laws
Thursday's ruling marked the first time that a highly debated new Brazilian anti-terror law formed the basis of a legal ruling.
Last year, Brazil's Congress passed the new law that widened the scope of what could be deemed a terror act. The new legislation dictates that anyone found guilty of "advocating terrorism" can face up to eight years in prison, and 10 to years for "joining terrorist organizations."
However, the new law drew condemnation from rights groups for failing to define "terrorism" or "terrorist." Rights advocates warned that its broad language could lead to a crackdown against freedom of speech.
The city of Rio de Janeiro, a city known for its rampant levels of armed crime, was under close examination for how it handled terror and security threats during last year's Olympics. Around 85,000 police and military personnel were deployed to safeguard some 11,000 Olympic athletes and several hundred thousand tourists. Authorities succeeded in ensuring the Games ran without any major incident.
dm/bw (AP, AFP)