Rio de Janeiro, Aug 14 (IANS) Muggings, a possible gunshot, a bomb blast without injuries and a controlled explosion sum up the security challenges faced so far at the 31st Olympics here.
On Thursday, an American journalist walking with his wife and son on the famed Ipanema beach at around 2 p.m. was mugged by a motorcycle-borne man, who grabbed and took away his waist pouch containing passport and money.
On Thursday again, security officials carried out a controlled explosion at the basketball arena when a routine check found an abandoned backpack.
Earlier, on Tuesday, a media bus returning from a basketball event was said to have been shot at, shattering a window. And just a day into the Games on August 6, a small bomb blast put the whole security establishment on alert as another unexploded bomb was destroyed in a controlled explosion.
All this sums up the minor challenges to the huge security apparatus put in place. But no major threats have emerged so far, although several layers of round-the-clock safeguards are in place at Rio, where over 10,000 athletes from 207 countries are vying for medals, aiming for the pinnacle of sports performance.
“The bomb blast and another controlled explosion were confirmed, but the shooting at the media bus was not by the security establishment here,” said Gopal Hosur, the security official attached to Indian athletes.
Rio officials regularly brief the organising committee’s security officers about any incident.
“They are still probing the shooting incident but have not been able to confirm whether it was a shot or a stone thrown at the media bus,” Hosur, a retired IPS officer from Karnataka, told IANS.
The former inspector-general of police, who had gained experience on terrorism and left-wing extremism, said that he meets Indian Chef de Mission Rakesh Gupta every day to brief him about any incident or precaution that needed to be taken. He is also in regular touch with the Indian embassy in Rio.
After a spate of muggings in the city involving athletes and some officials, Hosur said he and Gupta had briefed the Indians competing in various events that they should take normal precautions of going out in groups, not going out late at night and not carrying any valuables.
“If any major event happens, we will have to depend on the International Police Coordination Centre set up in Rio,” he said, adding that Brazil was not under any known threats from terrorism, as they do not have any problem from across any of their several bordering nations.
“So far we have seen some minor incidents, nothing much. But the Rio security officials keep us informed on a regular basis,” said Gupta.
“We have found the security officials in Rio quite competent. They have set up various layers of safeguards around the athletes and the event venues which have been successful in avoiding any big episode,” Indian Olympic Association President Narayana Ramachandran told IANS.
Brazil has also set up an Integrated Anti-Terrorism Centre here which comprises the police, special forces and intelligence agencies. The armed forces act as a back up. “Police from several countries are working with us to tackle any security issue,” Andrei Rodrigues, special safety secretary at the Brazilian Ministry of Justice, told the media earlier.
In 2015, Brazil had sent around 100 police officers to other countries to learn about the best practices in security at large international events.
For the Olympics, around 47,000 personnel have been put in place by the ministry, bringing in 10,000 from the National Force and 5,000 from police of other states. A Quick Deployment Special Battalion is also on continuous standby. The National Force comprises men from Brazilian Military Police of various states.
Some of the countries prone to attack against its citizens, though, are not depending on local expertise alone. The United States has sent in about 1,000 intelligence officials to Rio, according to NBC News. Additionally, Navy and Marine Corps commandos are here. Large military units are also on call for rescue or counter-terrorism operations.
A spokesman for the National Intelligence Director told media that intelligence agencies were working with Brazilian officials to help disrupt potential threats to the Games. The US is one of the over 50 countries supplying counter-terrorism intelligence to Brazil.
No major threats have emerged so far, according to officials who attend the security briefings. But Brazilian authorities had detained a dozen people in Rio a few weeks ago on alleged ties to Islamic State. One person of Lebanese origin was arrested.
An Israeli company, International Security and Defense Systems, which protects embassies and trains special forces, has also been brought in for protection of athletes and officials.
(Hardev Sanotra can be reached at [email protected])