SAO PAULO (AP) - Brazilian authorities detained an Arab who ran a Web site forum that authorities initially suspected could be linked to terrorists and included anti-American statements in Arabic, a prosecutor said Tuesday night.
The Arab resident of Brazil was not identified and a court ordered his release after he spent three weeks in jail while police investigated, federal prosecutor Ana Leticia Absy said in a statement.
Absy said Brazilian police were alerted to the presence of the closed Web site by the FBI. They obtained judicial permission to investigate and intercept messages sent to the site after an initial determination that "it could have been linked to a terrorist group."
Authorities arrested the Arab resident on April 26 on charges of promoting racism, a crime in Brazil, the Justice Ministry said in a separate statement.
While Absy labeled the comments on the site as "deplorable," her statement said the investigation has so far uncovered no evidence that the moderator of the forum or its users were linked to terrorism.
Absy issued the statement after a columnist for the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, Brazil's largest, reported Tuesday that the man was suspected of being a member of al-Qaida. Prior to the statement's release, a federal police spokeswoman told The Associated Press that the man was suspected of being a key player in al-Qaida's international communications. She spoke on condition of anonymity, in keeping with department policy.
Police later declined comment when pressed for more details. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told reporters Tuesday afternoon he had been informed about the arrest by the Justice Ministry but added that "for now, there are no grounds to accuse anyone."
Police seized the man's computers, but Absy said no evidence was uncovered indicating "that the man detained in Sao Paulo is a member of any terrorist organization."
No weapons, documents relating to terrorism or plans to engage in it were found, according to Absy, who said a court ordered the man's release after he was detained for 21 days because he is in the country legally and has a fixed residence and a business in Brazil.
The FBI asked to be kept informed about developments in the case for intelligence purposes, Absy said.
Prosecutors said the man's Web site included messages about hatred of Americans and religious intolerance, and that nothing was posted without his approval. Prosecutors are still assessing the case "in search of the real truth of the facts," Absy said.
A U.S. official confirmed that the suspect was charged more than a month ago on non-terrorism charges. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the case, said Brazilian officials were investigating whether he has connections to al-Qaida operatives.
An FBI spokesman referred all questions about the matter to Brazilian authorities.
Brazil is home to one of the largest Arab populations outside the Middle East, with most living in Sao Paulo and in Foz do Iguacu, a hotbed of smuggling and contraband in the so-called Tri-Border region along the border with both Argentina and Paraguay.
U.S. officials have been concerned for years that the Tri-Border region could be a fundraising center for Hezbollah and Hamas - although a recent U.S. State Department report said there was no confirmation "that these or other Islamic extremist groups had an operational presence in the region."
Associated Press writers Devlin Barrett in Washington and Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.
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