Rio Olympic police train in shadow of Paris attacks

Brazilian antiriot Batallion of the Military Police, and French National Security Police of the Republic participate in a Rio military training session for the upcoming Rio 2016 Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Nov 19, 2015.
Brazilian antiriot Batallion of the Military Police, and French National Security Police of the Republic participate in a Rio military training session for the upcoming Rio 2016 Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Nov 19, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Elite Brazilian police training with French instructors to protect next year's Rio Olympics said on Thursday they fear an attempted terrorist attack similar to the bloodshed in Paris and are working hard to be ready.

"There is a real possibility of a terrorist attack due to the high visibility," said Colonel Andrei Silva, with the Brazilian police force's Shock Battalion, at their headquarters in Rio de Janeiro.

"We have to prepare more," he told AFP.

As he spoke, dozens of officers with state-of-the-art anti-riot gear, including fire-proof balaclavas, gas masks, stun grenades and tear gas, showed off their techniques for subduing violent crowds.

In normal times, a riot would be the worst thing expected to happen at a major sporting event like the Olympics, which open in Rio on Aug 5.

But less than a week since Islamist bombers and gunmen spread terror through Paris, including at a France-Germany football game, the focus has abruptly switched to a much darker scenario.

"We definitely don't want this to happen in Brazil," Silva said.

The Brazilian police have huge experience in fighting well-armed drug traffickers in city favelas, but are often accused of human riots violations, including extrajudicial executions.

The French had come to teach them "democratic management of crowds," Antonio Marcalo, with the CRS, said.

"We try to help them with tactics that are a little more democratic."

The demonstration exercise involving an assault by about 20 hulking riot police with batons and stun grenades against a lone colleague posing as the supposedly disorderly crowd seemed rather to favour more robust Brazilian methods.

After being gassed, stunned and eventually surrounded, the solitary protester was carried away in a horizontal position.

France's Lieutenant Anne-Christine Poinchon pointed out that the CRS does not have specific anti-terrorism expertise and had arrived in Rio on what had been planned as a routine training session.

However, with attacks on such a large scale as in Paris - where assailants did the most damage with widely available and easily used automatic rifles - the stakes are rising for security services of all kinds, including the CRS and Shock Battalion.

"We arrived right after the Paris attacks so we're getting a lot of questions about terrorism," Poinchon said.

"The Brazilian authorities take what happened in France very, very, very, very seriously and are very keen to get our information so they can prepare to a maximum."

Poinchon said Silva, the Shock Battalion colonel, had already been in talks with France's specialist anti-terrorism unit RAID.

With a low profile in international conflicts and no connection to US and European entanglements in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, Brazil has never been targeted by Islamist groups. However, the simple fact of world leaders being present in Rio and the massive media attention could suddenly change that.

"Historically Brazil has not had any terrorist act. We hope that will continue," Silva said. "But to hope is not enough any more."