- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2005


As the world marked another anniversary of September 11, 2001 — representing the deadliest terrorist operation in history — we recall there have been numerous attacks around the world over the last four years in the name of ideological, political, and religious “higher principles.” Suffice it to mention victimization of civilians in Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, Jerusalem, Madrid, London, and Sharm el-Sheikh.

The question arises repeatedly: Can we expect a similar attack in scope and sophistication elsewhere?

The short answer is definitely yes; it is only a matter of time. The task then is to identify the location and the modus operandi of such assaults.

A glimpse into the stark future is the just televised videotape by an American-born al Qaeda speaker, promising “tomorrow Los Angeles and Melbourne” will be attacked. And what about the day after tomorrow? Consider, for example, the 2007 Pan-American Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro as a potential target.

Brazil itself, the largest and most populous democracy in Latin America, has thus far been spared similar barbaric attacks. However, Brazilians abroad — at the Twin Towers in New York, and the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad — were killed by terrorists because they were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. The latest tragedy happened in London when a Brazilian citizen was wrongly killed by the British police following bombings of the city’s transportation system.

A predominant Brazilian attitude refuses to place the terrorism challenge on the national agenda for fear of it will prove a self-fulfilling prophecy. This assumption is unfounded simply because no community, no country and no region is immune from terrorism after September 11, 2001.

Brazil has an ongoing battle against corruption and crime. Despite the country’s rank as the world’s eighth-largest economy, it suffers high crime rates. Brazilians have become accustomed to crime “next door.” In southern Rio de Janeiro, beautiful beaches can deceive. Some Rio streets are shared by middle class and slum dwellers living in the surrounding hills, under the threat of drug traffickers. Hence, bullets fired often by rival gangs have killed people inside their own apartments.

Moreover, inmates go about “business as usual” inside the prisons, using smuggled cell phones. In Rio, criminal gangs blackmail local merchants and school officials into closing their doors when law enforcement confronts gang members.

Of particular concern is the expanding nexus between organized crime and terrorist groups in illegal activities such as drug trafficking, contraband, and money laundering. The study “Control of Firearms and Correlated Products” presented recently to a Brazilian Congressional Commission offers a glimpse of the growing criminal-terrorist threats. While there are only 2 million legally owned firearms in the country, some 20 million are illegally owned. Thus, it is no wonder the gangs of Rio’s slums can hold their own against law enforcement.

The possible terrorist “overflow” from the tri-border area between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay aggravates this situation. This area is known for arms and drug trafficking, contraband, smuggling, document and currency fraud, money laundering, and manufacture and transportation of pirated goods. Various intelligence reports link the area with groups such as Hamas, Hizballah, and al Qaeda operating in some Latin American countries and elsewhere.

The potential for collaboration between Brazilian criminals and foreign terrorists is possible if not probable. Therefore the 2007 Pan-American Olympic Games in Rio might provide a unique opportunity for a joint terrorist attack.

To out-invent such an eventuality, Brazil should immediately consider developing and putting in place an integrated comprehensive defensive strategy with its law enforcement agencies. In the first place, lessons must be learned and carried out from the experiences of Olympic games over the last 30 years. Moreover, Brazilian public security strategies must be updated to include developing a standard curriculum for police academies, standardized training for instructors (“training for trainers”), intelligence and quality database mining, and simulation exercises. It is also necessary to supply law enforcement and military with necessary funding, personnel, technology and equipment — using local, regional, national, and global sources.

In sum, the common challenges of the emerging post-September 11 era must be faced with continuing vigilance as well as international solidarity and cooperation. After all, Syrus Publius wrote some 2,000 years ago that “he is best secure from dangers who is vigilant even when he feels safe.” However, as in any democracy, Brazil must balance credible security considerations and preservation of civil liberties.

Professor Yonah Alexander is director of the Inter-University Center for Terrorist Studies and visited Brazil recently. George de Lima Dantas teaches at Brasilia’s Catholic University.

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