Brazil nabs suspected Hezbollah operatives said planning attacks on Jewish targets

International counterterrorism operation conducted in partnership with Mossad and other Israeli and global security organizations

Illustrative: Brazilian Federal Police agents stand at Federal Police headquarters minutes before the arrival of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro who will testify in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. (AP/Eraldo Peres)
Illustrative: Brazilian Federal Police agents stand at Federal Police headquarters minutes before the arrival of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro who will testify in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

SAO PAULO, Brazil — The Brazilian Federal Police, working in cooperation with Israeli intelligence agencies, says it has disrupted a suspected domestic terror plot against Israeli and Jewish targets believed to be in its initial stages.

Federal investigators said Tuesday that they had uncovered a scheme allegedly involving the recruitment of Brazilian citizens by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, to orchestrate attacks against members of the 120,000-strong Brazilian Jewish community.

The intended targets reportedly included synagogues.

In Israel, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Wednesday that the Mossad and other Israeli and international security and law enforcement agencies had worked with Brazilian authorities to foil an attack in Brazil that was planned by Hezbollah and directed and financed by Iran.

The PMO said that the “extensive network” was also operating “in additional countries.”

“Given the backdrop of the war in Gaza against the Hamas terrorist organization, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime are continuing to operate around the world in order to attack Israeli, Jewish and Western targets,” the statement said, promising that the Mossad will likewise operate internationally to stop the attacks “wherever necessary, by various methods.”

Hezbollah, an ally of Palestinian terror group Hamas, which is also backed by Tehran, has been engaged in escalating skirmishes with the IDF on Israel’s northern borders amid the war on Hamas in Gaza.

Hezbollah supporters wave Lebanese, Palestinian and their group flags, as they hold pro-Gaza placards during a protest to show their solidarity with the Palestinians, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. (AP/Hussein Malla)

Hezbollah has denied previous knowledge of Hamas’s shock October 7 assault on southern Israeli communities — during which terrorists killed some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took 240 hostages of all ages — and has no explicit plans to broaden its conflict with Israel, according to its longtime leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

Hezbollah and Iran are suspected of being behind a number of terror plots against Israeli and Jewish targets in foreign countries in recent years, including Cyprus and Greece just this year, and Turkey and the UK over the past eight years. In 2012, Hezbollah led an attack in Burgas, Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists.

Brazil said its counterterrorism operation led to the apprehension of two individuals in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state and home to the biggest local Jewish community. One suspect was apprehended at Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport, having just landed from Lebanon.

Brazilian courts have issued arrest warrants for two additional suspects believed to be in Lebanon. Police have also executed 11 search-and seizure-warrants across the state of Minas Gerais in southeastern Brazil and the Federal District.

Israeli flags and photos of Israeli children are displayed on Copacabana beach by the NGO ‘Rio de Paz’ in memory of the victims of the October 7, 2023, Hamas slaughter, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 7, 2023. (APBruna Prado)

Daniel Bialski, the vice president of Conib, the main Jewish organization in Brazil, shared his alarm over the threat but expressed a sense of reassurance that the Federal Police, alongside the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of Justice, took preemptive action to neutralize the threat.

Bialski emphasized the urgency of capturing any accomplices and underscored the Jewish community’s and the broader Brazilian society’s desire for continued peaceful coexistence in the country.

Those implicated in planning, recruiting and joining the alleged terror plots could face serious charges, including “forming or integrating a terrorist organization” and “executing preparatory acts of terrorism,” with combined maximum penalties amounting to some 15 years in prison.

Hezbollah has established a presence in Brazil over the years, notably in the southern region, home to a substantial Muslim Arab community.

In 2018, the Brazilian Federal Police apprehended Assad Ahmad Barakat, a Lebanese national and local businessman accused by the US government of being a key financier for Hezbollah and a “global terrorist.”

Brazilian authorities took Barakat into custody in Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná, in the so-called Tri-Border region where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay converge and which is known as a smuggling and money laundering hub for terror organizations and organized crime groups.

Barakat was wanted in Paraguay on charges of identity misrepresentation, and previously served six years in a Paraguayan prison for tax evasion. Argentina had also accused Barakat of money laundering for Hezbollah and froze his assets in the country, according to a report at the time by the Voice of America.

In Argentina, Hezbollah is believed to have carried out the deadliest terror attack in the country’s history, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds at a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994.

Relatives of victims of a bomb attack at the Jewish community center of the Mutual Israelite Association of Argentina (AMIA) that killed 85 people and injured 300, hold photos during its 28th anniversary, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on July 18, 2022. (Luis ROBAYO / AFP)

In the attack on July 18 that year, a van packed with explosives crashed into the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, a bombing believed to have been funded by Iran. It came just two years after a bombing of the Israeli embassy killed 29 and wounded 200.

Argentina is still seeking suspects in the AMIA Jewish center bombing.

Iran and Hezbollah have long been suspected, though nobody has ever been brought to justice, and Iran has denied claims that its diplomats in Buenos Aires aided the operations.

Based on the investigations of Argentine Jewish prosecutor Alberto Nisman, six Iranians and one Lebanese have been on Interpol’s most-wanted list since 2007.

In 2015, Nisman was found dead under mysterious circumstances in his apartment just hours before he was to present evidence against the then-president, now Vice President Cristina Kirchner for ignoring and covering up Iran’s involvement in the bombing. She was absolved of charges last year.

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