RIO de JANEIRO, Brazil, May 26 – Police dogs in Brazil are more used to sniffing out drugs than explosives, but with the Olympics coming up, they have been training hard to help thwart potential terrorist attacks.
Although Brazil has never suffered a terrorist attack on its soil, it is on high alert for any threats at the Games, which open in Rio de Janeiro on August 5.
To prepare, the Rio Canine Intervention Brigade just completed a two-week training with specialists from a French elite police force, RAID.
The dogs showed off their new skills Wednesday in exercises at Rio’s international airport.
Tails wagging and tongues lolling, they eagerly followed their human counterparts around an airport security zone to clear it for the arrival of a hypothetical VIP — sitting and whining when they found a hidden “bomb.”
“The Rio Canine Intervention Brigade hadn’t been trained in this type of approach,” said RAID trainer Christophe B., who withheld his full name for security reasons.
But “Brazilian dogs are just as effective as French ones when you look at the number of drug seizures they make,” he added.
– Labrador legend –
Rio has ample experience with violent crime fueled by drug trafficking, which has pitted the police and military against heavily armed gangs in the poor shantytowns known as favelas that dot the city.
So do its police dogs.
One of the two dogs taking part in Wednesday’s exercises, Chefe, is something of a local legend: he was born to a now-retired labrador named Boss that made so many drug busts traffickers put a price on its head in 2012.
While drug-related violence is on the authorities’ watch-list of potential threats to the Games, the recent wave of jihadist attacks worldwide has put terrorism at the top of the list.
The threat escalated after the attacks on Paris that killed 130 people last November.
Three days later, French jihadist Maxime Hauchard — an Islamic State group fighter identified as an executioner in grisly videos of hostage beheadings — warned on Twitter: “Brazil, you’re our next target.”
– ‘It’s war here’ –
The Brazilian police dogs are ready, the RAID trainers say.
“They already face a kind of terrorism in the favelas,” one said.
“It’s war here. So (the security forces) use urban guerrilla tactics. They’re very good.”
Brazil will have 85,000 police and soldiers providing security for the athletes, VIPs, journalists and tourists from around the world at the Olympics — double the number for the London Games in 2012.