At least 20 terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda, Hizbullah and Hamas have been hiding out in Brazil planning attacks, raising money, and recruiting operatives, according to Veja Magazine.
The report on Saturday ressurects fears the oil-rich South American nation is serving as a terror resort for Islamic militants.
Veja, citing Brazilian police and US government reports, said these operatives have been raising money and working to incite attacks abroad. No details of these operations were included in the article.
The United States has said Islamic militants have been operating in the border region between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.
“For sure, members, facilitators, and sympathizers of Islamic terrorist organizations are present in our hemisphere,” Adm. Jim Stavridis, head of the U.S. Southern Command, wrote in the Americas Quarterly journal. “We consider Latin America and the Caribbean as being highly likely bases for future terrorist threats to the U.S. and others.”
The Lebanon-based Hizbullah was the most prominent group in Latin America, Stavridis wrote. Most of its activity appeared to be fund-raising but “there are indications of an operational presence and the potential for attacks.”
Stavridis said security threats posed by local terror operatives were partly the result of poverty, inequality and corruption — problems he inists must be addressed for a lasting solution to defeat terror.
He noted that analysts and polls said anti-U.S. sentiment was growing and that the Bush administration had ignored Latin America. This has allowed leaders such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to whip up opposition to the United States.
“Anti-U.S. leaders are creating tensions and suspicions that exacerbate what is already a difficult mission,” he said.
Brazilian authorities have long insisted it has no indication of terrorist cells in the tri-border region, although they have admitted being aware of financial contributions to groups such as Hizbullah, which Brazil does not classify as a terrorist organization.
Relations between Brazil and the United States since President Dilma Rousseff took office in January have warmed, however. Rousseff has sought closer US ties after her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, angered the United States with attempts to mediate over Iran's nuclear program.
Veja reported that Khaled Hussein Ali of Lebanese origin, who has lived in Brazil since 1998, is an important member of al Qaeda's propaganda machine and coordinates with extremists in 17 countries.
Ali was briefly detained by authorities in Brazil in March 2009 after a police investigation discovered videos and texts intended for Al Qaeda followers. One email found on his computer and which was sent as spam to email addresses in the United States incited hatred against Jews and blacks, Veja said.
He spent 21 days in prison on charges of racism, inciting crime and gang formation, but he was set free because prosecutors did not pursue the charges in court, according to the magazine.
Some observers speculate the arrest may herald a shift in position by Brazilian authorities vis-a-vis their classification of terror groups.