By André Romani and Gabriel Stargardter
BRASILIA (Reuters) – A man arrested for attempting to detonate a bomb in protest of Brazil’s election result was inspired to build an armory 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 Saturday, a day after police said he foiled their plot to detonate 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 tense elections in a generation.
Incoming Justice Minister Flavio Dino said in a television interview on Monday that security would need to be tightened for Sunday’s inauguration of left-wing president-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who defeated 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 will not allow political terrorism in Brazil.”
Sousa’s initial lawyer, Wallison dos Reis Pereira, said he had confessed and was cooperating with police. His current attorney, Jorge Chediak, said he had not yet spoken to Sousa, who is in jail, but said his confession to police was full of “contradictions.”
Sousa, a 54-year-old gas station manager from the northern state of Pará, told police that Bolsonaro’s sowing of electoral doubts inspired his trip to the capital on December 12.
After arriving in Brasília, he joined a camp of pro-Bolsonaro deniers outside the army headquarters calling for a coup.
“My trip to Brasilia was to join the protests in front of the army barracks and wait for the armed forces to authorize me to take up arms and destroy communism,” he said, according to a copy of his testimony.
Sousa said he became a registered gun owner, known as a CAC, in October last year, joining a group that has grown six-fold to nearly 700,000 since Bolsonaro was elected in 2018 and began easing gun laws. .
He said he had invested nearly 160,000 reais (US$30,800) since then to grow his arsenal. He said that he took with him two 12-gauge shotguns, two revolvers, three pistols, a rifle, more than a thousand cartridges and five sticks of dynamite on his trip to Brasilia.
“What motivated me to buy the weapons 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 December 12, the day Lula’s victory was certified, some of the campers attacked the federal police headquarters in Brasilia.
Sousa said that he enjoyed a certain level of official support.
After the December 12 attack, he said police and firefighters near the camp told him they would not arrest any protesters for vandalism as long as they did not attack police. His comments led him to believe that “the intervention of the armed forces would soon be declared.”
But as weeks passed without a coup, he said he and others in the camp hatched a plan to prevent Lula from taking office. His 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 set off a bomb in the parking lot of the Brasilia airport, followed by anonymous suggestions for two more bombs in the departure lounge, he said. The conspirators also considered blowing up an electrical substation, he added.
Sousa told police that he built the bomb on December 23, using dynamite he had brought from Pará and a remote firing device that someone else in the camp gave him. He said he handed the bomb to a camp inhabitant and asked him to install it next to the substation because he “didn’t agree with the idea of blowing it up in the airport parking lot.”
That same day, Sousa saw on the news that the police had found the bomb near the airport. The next 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 Brasília, but the police arrested him before he could leave.
($1 = 5.1877 reais)
(Additional reporting by Flávia Marreiro; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Howard Goller)