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Israel claimed to have helped foil an attack on Jewish targets allegedly planned by Hizbollah in Brazil, where authorities arrested two people on terror charges.
Police in Brasília on Wednesday said the arrests in São Paulo were part of an operation to “interrupt preparatory acts of terrorism” and obtain evidence about the possible recruitment of Brazilians to carry out extremist acts in the country.
They also served 11 search and seizure warrants in the states of Minas Gerais, São Paulo and the Federal District. The suspects were not named.
The Israeli prime minister’s office said in a post on its website that spy agency Mossad was involved in thwarting an alleged plot in the South American nation and named Iran-backed Lebanese paramilitary group Hizbollah as behind it.
“The Brazilian security services, together with the Mossad and its partners in the Israeli security community, alongside additional international security and enforcement agencies, have foiled a terrorist attack in Brazil, which had been planned by the Hizbollah terrorist organization, directed and financed by the Iranian regime,” the statement said.
Mossad thanked Brazil’s law enforcement for arresting what it called a “terrorist cell that was operated by Hizbollah in order to carry out an attack on Israeli and Jewish targets in Brazil”, in the statement from the prime minister’s office.
Brazilian authorities declined to comment on the alleged Hizbollah connection or the intended targets.
“The recruiters and those recruited must respond to the crimes of forming or joining a terrorist organisation and carrying out preparatory acts of terrorism, whose maximum penalties, if added together, reach 15 years and 6 months in prison,” the federal police said.
Security and intelligence agencies in a number of countries have been on alert to the threat of potential terror attacks following the outbreak of war last month between Israel and Hamas militants based in the Gaza strip.
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Brazil is home to Latin America’s second-largest Jewish population, after Argentina, numbering 120,000 people, according to the Confederação Israelita do Brasil, which represents the community there.
It also has 3.2mn inhabitants of Lebanese origin or ancestry, according to a survey commissioned by the Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce.
“We have known for a while that Hizbollah has people here in the northern area, closer to Venezuela, and in the triple border in Foz do Iguaçu [region with large waterfalls]. We have heard for a long time that there is a presence there,” Israel’s ambassador to Brazil, Daniel Zonshine, told CNN. “But we didn’t know they had activity here.”
Additional reporting by Beatriz Langella