| 22 May 2024, Wednesday |

Bolsonaro’s call to arms inspired foiled Brazil bomb plot, police are told

According to a copy of the police evidence that Reuters has seen, the far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s call to arms inspired the guy who was detained for attempting to detonate a bomb as a form of protest against the outcome of the Brazilian election.

The day after police claimed to have thwarted his plan to detonate an explosive device close to the airport in Brasilia, George Washington de Oliveira Sousa was apprehended on Saturday.

The incident added a new dimension to post-election violence in Brazil, where tensions remain high after the most fraught election in a generation.

Incoming Justice Minister Flavio Dino said in a television interview on Monday that security would need to be beefed up for Sunday’s inauguration of leftist President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who defeated the incumbent Bolsonaro.

“We’re not talking about a lone wolf,” Dino said of Sousa. “There are powerful people behind this and the police will investigate. We won’t allow political terrorism in Brazil.”

Sousa’s initial lawyer, Wallison dos Reis Pereira, said he had confessed and was cooperating with police. His current lawyer, Jorge Chediak, said he had yet to speak with Sousa, who is in jail, but said his confession to police was full of “contradictions.”

A 54-year-old gas station manager from the northern state of Para, Sousa told police that Bolsonaro’s sowing of election doubts inspired his Dec. 12 journey to the capital.

After arriving in Brasilia, he joined an encampment of pro-Bolsonaro election-deniers outside the army headquarters who were calling for a coup.

“My trip to Brasilia was so I could join the protests in front of the army headquarters and wait for the armed forces to authorize me to take up arms and destroy communism,” he said, according to the copy of his testimony.

Sousa said he had become a registered gun-owner, known as CAC, in October last year, joining a group that has swelled sixfold to nearly 700,000 people since Bolsonaro was elected in 2018 and began loosening gun laws.

He said he had invested nearly 160,000 reais ($30,800) since then to grow his arsenal. He said he took two 12-gauge shotguns, two revolvers, three pistols, a rifle, over a thousand rounds and five sticks of dynamite with him on his drive to Brasilia.

“What motivated me to buy the guns were the words of President Bolsonaro, who always emphasized the importance of civilians being armed by saying, ‘An armed population will never be enslaved,'” Sousa said.

He added that he planned to share his weapons with other CAC-holders in the Brasilia camp. On Dec. 12, the day Lula’s victory was certified, some of the camp-dwellers attacked the federal police HQ in Brasilia.

Sousa said he enjoyed some level of official support.

After the Dec. 12 attack, he said police and firemen near the camp told him they would not arrest any protesters for vandalism, as long as they did not attack cops. Their comments led him to believe that “the armed forces’ intervention would be declared soon.”

But as the weeks passed without a coup, he said he and others in the camp came up with a plan to prevent Lula from taking office. Their idea, he said, was “to provoke a military intervention and the decree of a state of siege to prevent the installation of communism in Brazil.”

An initial scheme was to blow up a bomb in the car park of Brasilia’s airport, followed by anonymous tips of two more bombs in the departure lounge, he said. The plotters also considered blowing up an electrical sub-station, he added.

According to Sousa, he constructed the explosive on December 23 using dynamite he had taken from Para and a remote detonator that another camper had given him. He claimed that instead of detonating the device in the airport parking lot, he gave it to a fellow camper and asked him to place it by the sub-station.

Sousa learned about the bomb’s discovery that day through the news that was broadcast nearby the airport. The following day, after spotting unusual men close to his leased apartment, he made the decision to leave Brasilia. He packed his bags and put his guns in the trunk of his car, but police stopped him before he could leave.

  • Reuters