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

REUTERS/Adriano Machado
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro attends an inauguration ceremony for new judges of Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice in Brasilia, Brazil December 6, 2022.

BRASILIA (Reuters) – A man arrested for attempting to set off a bomb in protest against Brazil’s election result was inspired to build up an arsenal by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s call to arms, according to a copy of his police testimony seen by Reuters.

George Washington de Oliveira Sousa was arrested on Saturday, the day after police said they foiled his plot to set off an explosive device near the Brasilia airport.

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.

Sousa told police he built the bomb on Dec. 23, using the dynamite he had brought with him from Para, and a remote triggering device that someone else in the camp gave him. He said he handed the bomb to a fellow camp-dweller, asking him to install it by the sub-station as “I did not agree with the idea of exploding it in the airport carpark.”

That same day, Sousa saw on the news that police had found the bomb near the airport. The following day, after seeing strange men near his rented apartment, he decided to pack his bags and put his weapons in the trunk of his car to leave Brasilia, but was arrested by police before he could depart.

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