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It's just before 10 p.m. on a Friday night at Café Pavao Azul, a popular open-air hangout in the renowned beach district of Copacabana. The over-flow crowd is a mix of locals and tourists in town for the Olympics, all laughing, clinking their glasses, sitting around tables set up on the sidewalk, oblivious to the cars and buses whizzing by just inches away.

They would seemingly be unaware also of the easy target they make for a deranged gunman, radicalized or otherwise, looking to leave his mark on these Games by sending some sort of sick message to a broader world.

"This is the one thing that all the army personnel on the street corners can't stop," says Fernando Brancoli, an expert on international security at Pontificia Universidade Catolica of Rio de Janeiro. "This is the new world of terrorism we live in; this is Paris, this is Nice, this is co-ordinated attacks on soft targets but also the lone wolf who is impossible to stop or plan for. This is what is different about these Olympics in many ways."

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Not since the Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002, the first Olympics to follow the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City a year earlier, have the security concerns around this global sporting spectacle been as high as they are today. This famed Brazilian city known for its annual carnival has become an armed fortress in recent days, with machine-gun toting soldiers guarding street corners everywhere. The threat of an attack has forced Brazil into co-operating with other foreign intelligence agencies, including the United States, a country with which the host nation has had a complicated and often testy relationship.

According to a report in The New York Times, the Americans have been training Brazilian anti-terrorism forces in the area of chemical and biological attacks as well as in identifying easy targets such as outdoor restaurants, night clubs and shopping malls.

Counterintelligence teams from France and Israel have also arrived here to assist a country with little experience in training and planning for a terrorist attack.

That risk has increased in the wake of the recent arrest of 10 people living in the country with links to the Islamic State (they were part of a group called "Defenders of Sharia") said to be plotting an attack during the Games. As well, there have been reports that IS has been translating its propaganda into Portuguese, the language spoken in Brazil, and through various channels extending offers of visas and plane tickets to potential lone wolves – attackers acting alone – willing to travel to Rio to wreak carnage in the name of Allah.

All together it has forced the Olympic hosts to be prepared for anything. In response, the government did something it had for decades resisted: It gave police and the military unprecedented powers to arrest and detain anyone suspected of having terrorist intentions. For many, the new anti-terrorism law harks back to a dark time in the country's history, when the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from the mid-1960s to 1985 used similar powers to put down any type of dissent against its authoritarian rule.

Not surprisingly, this new terrorist environment in which we live has impacted the security measures that countries participating in these Games are taking. This includes the instructions they are giving to their athletes about how far they should stray from the confines of the access-controlled Olympic bubble in which they exist. In other words, athletes have been told they may want to think twice about becoming the tourists they often do after their competition is over and the urge to explore exotic locales overcomes them.

Audrey Lacroix, a three-time Olympic swimmer from Montreal, said she and her Canadian teammates received a full security briefing upon arriving in Rio, including where to go and where not to go. "Talking with the other athletes, I think most people are going to play it safe this time around and not stray too far from the [athletes'] village. I think some of us will do some touristy stuff but will use common sense in terms of where we go and when we go."

Tricia Smith, president of the Canadian Olympic Commission, said athletes have been told that they should not be lulled into a false sense of security because they might go out in a group. Asked if she would consider visiting one of Rio's many popular outdoor cafés at night, Ms. Smith told The Globe and Mail: "It's not something I'd do in any case but it's also something we'd recommend the athletes not do either. Even before the world changed it's something we would have advised against."

Prof. Brancoli said that despite all the measures put in place to prevent a terrorist tragedy from occurring here, Brazil remains an easy place to find the tools to create bedlam. Semi-automatic weapons are not difficult to come by, neither are explosives. He said there is no single profile of the type of person who would try to get their hands on AK-47s or the powder to build bombs in order to carry out such a horrendous act of violence.

"I think this is the greatest threat that exists right now," he said.

That said, Prof. Brancoli is not convinced that an attack will take place. He said the biggest threat to the country is the anti-terrorism legislation that was introduced in March, which he said is open to abuse because of the broad definition of what constitutes terrorist intent. It was under this law that the 10 people suspected of plotting an attack on the Olympics were arrested. But it was also under this new edict that a group of people protesting the need for land reform in Brazil by burning tires was arrested and thrown in jail.

"This is a very, very bad law," Prof. Brancoli said.

Ironically, it was ushered in by President Dilma Rousseff, who has since stepped down to face an impeachment hearing. Ms. Rousseff was once a young, radical leftist who got involved in a guerrilla organization opposed to the country's ruling military dictatorship. Her activities with the group led to her arrest under Brazil's then-repressive law forbidding protest activities. When the military regime was voted out of power in 1985, that decree was repealed, with the majority of the country never wanting to seek the likes of it again.

But mounting internal pressure to ensure a major terrorist disaster doesn't befall these Olympics on Brazil's watch forced the government to reconsider its long-standing opposition to such a law.

"It could be in the end that Brazil traded the security of the Olympic Games for a less secure future for social movements and all Brazilians," Prof. Brancoli said. "I think the Games will be quite fine. But I'm quite scared about the future of the country."