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Two Brazilians allegedly tied to Hezbollah deny all charges

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and former first lady Michelle Bolsonaro "have opted to exercise their right to remain silent" in relation to a jewelry scandal, according to documents reported on by the Brazilian media
— Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Two people arrested in Brazil for allegedly planning terrorist attacks in the country on behalf of Lebanon-based Hezbollah have denied any such involvement, according to images seen Saturday on the G1 news site.

During an audience with a judge conducted Friday by videoconference, the suspects -- both Brazilian nationals in their 30s arrested earlier this week by federal police -- categorically denied all charges, calling them "absurd."

"I'm being treated like a criminal, like a terrorist, but I'm neither of those," said one suspect, a resident of Santa Catarina state. The suspects' names were not provided.

The operation Wednesday, which included raids elsewhere in Brazil, aimed to disrupt "the preparation of terrorist attacks and secure evidence on the possible recruitment of Brazilians to carry out extremist acts in the country," the police said.

The Israeli intelligence service Mossad said in a statement it had worked with Brazilian security services and international agencies to "foil a terrorist attack in Brazil," which it said was "planned by the Hezbollah terrorist organization, directed and financed by the Iranian regime."

It said the plan aimed at "Israeli and Jewish targets in Brazil."

Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite movement, is allied with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group locked in a bloody conflict with Israel.

The first suspect told the judge it was "absurd" to suggest he was a member of either Hezbollah or Hamas.

The second suspect, a Brasilia resident arrested at a Sao Paulo airport after returning from Lebanon, also denied any connection to the militant groups.

Several Brazilian officials have expressed discontent with the Mossad statement about the operation.

Justice Minister Flavio Dino accused the Israeli service of wanting to "anticipate the result of an active investigation... for reasons of political propaganda."

Since Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7 -- killing 1,200 and prompting retaliatory attacks by Israel that Gaza authorities say have killed some 11,000 -- Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has condemned the "terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas" while also deploring the killing by Israeli forces of "innocents" in Gaza.

US authorities say Hezbollah has used parts of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay -- a region home to large numbers of Lebanese expats -- to raise funds and launder money, while also allegedly selling arms to local crime groups.

Officials in those countries say Washington has not provided proof of terrorist connections.

Prosecutors in Argentina -- which like Brazil has a sizable Jewish population -- accused Hezbollah of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center that killed 85 people.