As of Monday, August 12, 2019, the F.B.I. is looking to interrogate an Egyptian man, Mohamed Ahmed Elsayed Ahmed Ibrahim who arrived in Brazil last year. There is speculation that he is an operative for al-Qaeda involved in planning attacks against the United States. The bureau sent a notice that says Mr. Ibrahim is “suspected of providing material support to al-Qaeda since 2013.” American and Brazilian law enforcement are working closely together to investigate the situation; Brazil stands ready to cooperate with the United States in any way possible.1
Mohamed Ahmed Elsayed Ahmed Ibrahim from Twitter
In 2018, Brazil charged 11 people with planning to establish an Islamic State cell and recruit jihadists to be sent to Syria. “Police tracked the alleged Isis militants through their social media messages after Spain’s Guardia Civil provided telephone numbers found on a Brazilian arrested in Spain for belonging to a jihadist group there.” In the messages, there was talk of copying the London Bridge attack and to kill as many people as possible. Police also found weapons in the homes of the suspects, along with personal claims to the al-Qaeda movement. Furthermore, in 2016, Brazilian law enforcement arrested 12 people who made claims to ISIS, but had not yet made any progress as an organization.2
There have not been any major terrorist attacks in Brazil in recent years, but various extremist groups have become active within its borders, including Islamic extremism. Some groups date back to the mid 1980s, where they have recruited and held training camps out of South America. Hamas, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Egyptian and Moroccan Islamic combatant groups are known to have operations in Brazil, according to the Brazilian law enforcement. “[The] Library of Congress said that Islamist groups have plotted attacks—as well as fundraised through drug trafficking and money laundering schemes—within South America.” Additionally, many groups use the South America “Tri-Border Area” or TBA (Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil) as a home-base for their operations as they plot attacks in other countries.
Not many events have taken place in South America, but here is a timeline of main events that took place:3
Ideology and motivation influence terrorist objectives, whether it be to produce fear, obtain worldwide recognition, weaken government forces and influence government decisions, extort money, or simply to seek vengeance. Most Muslim-based terrorist groups believe they can purify the world and start anew. They want to divide the world between Muslims and non-Muslims. For example, ISIS, believes it is rescuing Muslim minorities all over the world by doing so, and to “free” them, they must be free from the “enemy,” or any “disbeliever” of the Islamic faith. CNN Reporter Tim Lister confirmed, “ISIS wants to stir religious hatred in Europe and the United States- so that Muslims no longer feel they belong in the West, and either carry out attacks… or leave to join the caliphate.” If Western culture grows to hate Islam, then ISIS believes every Muslim will turn on the countries in which they live and “purify” or enslave them. Nonetheless, they are succeeding due to many Westerners having formed ignorant biases and opinions against the Islamic faith, without taking time to understand it. Some Westerners even claim all Muslims are terrorists, and support that all Muslims should be exiled from the United States. The notion to deny those from Islamic populated countries to enter the United States only aids in ISIS’s goal. Some Muslims feel oppressed and discriminated against for being generalized and connected to ISIS, which has left a distasteful perception to many Muslims globally.4 This has left the United States more susceptible and probable for an attack. Gaining control of the United States would be essential in becoming the most powerful nation, and thus “purifying” the world. However, it is much easier to go through the United States’ “backyard,” or Latin America. Moving operations through countries such as Brazil and Argentina only allows them to plan more strategically, rather than trying to do so half-way across the world.
The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) SOUTHCOM Team is actively monitoring the ongoing threat and violence located in the Tri-Border Area. SOUTHCOM tracks and documents these threats to analyze patterns relevant for CTG clients and counterterrorism efforts. SOUTHCOM will continue to track the terrorist-related activity, monitor potential attacks both in South America or the United States, and detect trends in the increase of terrorist groups in the region.
1. “F.B.I. Wants to Interrogate Egyptian Man in Brazil, Citing Qaeda Links.” The New York Times, Aug. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/08/12/world/americas/brazil-fbi-al-qaeda.html
2. “Brazil Charges 11 People with Attempting to Establish Isis Cell.” The Guardian, May 2018, www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/17/brazil-islamic-state-cell-charged-jihadists-syria
3. “Brazil: Extremism & Counter-Extremism.” Counter Extremism Project, July 2019, www.counterextremism.com/countries/brazil
4. “ISIS: What Does It Really Want?” CNN, December 2015, www.cnn.com/2015/12/11/middleeast/isis-syria-iraq-caliphate/index.html