Paris attacks heighten security fears for 2016 Rio Olympics

Thu Nov 19, 2015 3:38pm EST
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By Anthony Boadle and Pedro Fonseca

BRASILIA/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Last week's Paris killings have raised fears about the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, a country with so little history of terrorism that the president has played down the chance of an attack and legislators long resisted bills to make it a crime.

Diplomats in Brasilia say Western governments are worried about the safety of their athletes and tourists at the games because they believe many Brazilian authorities are complacent, taking too much comfort in Brazil's historical standing as a non-aligned, multicultural nation which is free of enemies.

President Dilma Rousseff last week brushed off the possibility of an incident in Brazil like the Islamic State attack in the French capital. "We are very far away," she said after a summit in Turkey.

Security experts say many Brazilian officials do not realize just how big a stage the Olympics is for anyone seeking to sow terror, either through an attack on game venues, infrastructure nearby or the athletes and 500,000 tourists expected to attend.

"Brazil is way behind in preventing terrorism," says Fernando Brancoli, a researcher on the Middle East and security at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a think tank and business school in Rio de Janeiro, the host city.

But Brazilian officials, eager to pull off South America's first Olympics, say they will ensure a safe games, starting August 5. They argue that Brazil is used to hosting major festivities, like the huge annual Carnival celebrations in Rio and elsewhere.

"We have safely hosted other big events," said General Luiz Felipe Linhares, the Army official in charge of preparations. "The Olympic Games, a bigger affair, will be equally successful."

Despite the Paris attacks, the top security official for Rio's state government said Thursday there has been no intensification of the alerts local authorities get from federal police, defense and intelligence services about threats they detect or hear of from foreign counterparts.   Continued...

A man walks in front of the Olympic Stadium, undergoing renovation to stage athletic competitions during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 9, 2015. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes