The risk of a terrorist attack is the main security fear at the Rio Olympics, a top official said, with the Paris attacks highlighting the potential for Brazil to be sucked into conflict for the first time with Islamic extremists.
In normal times, a riot would be the worst thing expected to happen at a major sporting event like the Olympics, which open on August 5.
But in the wake of the Paris attacks, including at a France-Germany football game, the focus of the long-scheduled session abruptly switched to a much darker scenario.
“Terrorism is the number one worry,” Jose Mariano Beltrame, the security chief for the state of Rio de Janeiro, told a news conference. “Brazil does not have a history of terrorism, but always works with this priority.”
“We arrived right after the Paris attacks so we’re getting a lot of questions about terrorism,” Poinchon said.
“The Brazilian authorities take what happened in France very, very, very, very seriously and are very keen to get our information so they can prepare to a maximum.”
Poinchon said Silva, the Shock Battalion colonel, had already been in talks with France’s specialist anti-terrorism unit RAID.
“Historically Brazil has not had any terrorist act. We hope that will continue,” Silva said. “But to hope is not enough anymore.”
With a low profile in international conflicts and no connection to US and European entanglements in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, Brazil has never been targeted by Islamist groups.
However, the simple fact of world leaders being present at the Rio Olympics next August, coupled with the massive media coverage, risks pulling Latin America’s biggest country into the crosshairs.
Beltrame said “we receive bulletins on possible threats…, but we have the means to boost our forces where necessary.”
“We are ready. Every institution knows what to do. We want a gold medal in security.”
“There is a real possibility of a terrorist attack due to the high visibility,” said Colonel Andrei Silva, with the Brazilian police force’s Shock Battalion, at their Rio headquarters.
A huge number of security personnel will be deployed for the games: between 60-65,000 police officers and soldiers, and another 15,000 in reserve. This doubles the number of security used at the 2012 London Games.
“We have to prepare more,” he told AFP. “We definitely don’t want this to happen in Brazil.”