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Brazil - Cablegate: Brazil frames suspected terrorists on narcotics charges

Natalia Viana, 29 November 2010, 05.11 GMT

Sao Paulo, Brazil - The Brazilian security forces cooperate closely with US intelligence and law enforcement agencies on counterterrorism in the country, in spite of denials from the Brazilian government, US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks reveal.

According to a secret cable sent to Washington in January 2008 by US Ambassador Clifford Sobel, the Federal Police and the Brazilian intelligence agency ABIN monitor suspected terrorists and have arrested some of them on other charges:

"The Federal Police will often arrest individuals with links to terrorism, but will charge them on a variety of non-terrorism related crimes to avoid calling attention of the media and the higher levels of the government. Over the past year the Federal Police has arrested various individuals engaged in suspected terrorism financing activity but have based their arrests on narcotics and customs charges".

The Brazilian government denies the existence of counter-terrorism operations in the country.

In a 2005 meeting with the US Ambassador, the Brazilian most senior intelligence officer, Minister for Institutional Security Jorge Armando Felix, said that officers were working closely with RMAS (Regional Movement Alert System, a passport database) to target specific individuals.

He also said that the government "was also appealing to moderate, second generation Arabs, many of whom were successful businessmen in Brazil, to keep a close eye on fellow Arabs who may be influenced by Arab extremists and/or terrorist groups". It was in the moderate Muslims interest to "keep potential firebrands in line and keep the microscope off" of the Arab community in Brazil, says the cable sent on the May 6, 2005 (See cable 05BRASILIA1207). The Brazilian government vigorously rejects claims that there are terrorism-related activities going on in the Triborder area with Paraguay and Argentina. Since 2006, the US includes the area as a potential threat in its annual report on terrorism.

In part the rebutal is due to a formal disagreement, since Brazil does not classify Hizbollah and Hamas as terrorist organizations. Both organizations have supporters in the triborder area.

Terror-related arrests

But apart from official discrepancies, WikiLeaks documents show that the Brazilian agencies act on leads provided by the US.

Also in the January 2008 cable, the main terrorism concern lays not in the Triborder Area, but concerns individuals in Sao Paulo and the south of Brazil. "Despite negative rhetoric in Itamaraty and at higher levels of the GOB [Government of Brazil], Brazilian law enforcement and intelligence agencies—principally the Federal Police, Customs, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN), and others—are aware of the potential threat from terrorists exploiting the favorable conditions existing in Brazil to operate and actively track and monitor suspected terrorist activity and follow all leads passed to them. "

Brazil doesn’t have specific legislation on terrorism, partly because of the legacy of the military regime - it used to arrest oppositors on charges of terrorism. The lack of a legisation in Brazil annoyes US officials, as another cable sent by Sobel in Abril 2008 shows (See Cable 08BRASILIA504).

Two discourses

Another document published by wikileaks show a December 2009 assessment (See Cable 09BRASILIA1540) of the national anti-terror policy.

In it, Minister Lisa Kubiske stresses that the US sees "two discourses" in the Brazilian government. "politically, Brazil continues to deny the presence and potential threat of terrorists and terrorism in Brazil, while law enforcement and intelligence monitor and cooperate to counter the threat". She mentions the arrest of a senior member of al Qaeda in Sao Paulo in May as an example.

"In October 2009, the Ministry of Foreign Relations did admit, for the first time, that terrorists could become interested in Brazil because of the award of the 2016 Olympics to Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian law enforcement’s recognition of the potential threat from terrorism prompted a reform of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) that could raise the profile of the issue by upgrading the counterterrorism division to the department level", says the cable.

The documents are part of a set of 250 thousand 1966-2010 US embassy files to be released in the coming weeks.