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Mounting Threats Against Sochi Olympics Worry Terrorism Experts

Mounting Threats Against Sochi Olympics Worry Terrorism Expertsi
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January 28, 2014 6:44 PM
Sochi’s neighbor to the East, the Northern Caucasus, is home to separatists who for years have waged a war of independence against Russia. As VOA's Arash Arabasadi reports, some question holding the Winter Games in close proximity to those who have vowed to fight Russia to the death.

Mounting Threats Against Sochi Olympics Worry Terrorism Experts

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Arash Arabasadi
— The Olympic Games in Sochi are just weeks away, but the terror threats keep coming. The biggest concern: The Northern Caucasus, Sochi’s neighbors to the East. The region is home to separatists who for years have waged a war of independence against Russia. Recent bombings in Volgograd, north of Sochi, have experts on high alert. Some question holding the Winter Games in close proximity to those who have vowed to fight Russia to the death.

One month ago, despite promises of heightened security at the Olympic Games, two suicide attacks killed 34 people in Volgograd, some 700 kilometers north of Sochi. A militant Islamist group in Russia's North Caucasus claimed responsibility in a video posted on an Islamist website.

Ian von Gordon, who is Director of Operations at the Diplomatic Protection Training Institute in Youngstown, Ohio, said, “Chechen rebels have already shown that they’re targeting trains, airplanes, transport, highways.” The institute provides security to civilians in high threat environments. He's an expert on terror groups in the Northern Caucasus.  

“Since Sochi was announced as a venue, there’s no doubt that they sent cells in immediately to embed themselves and, to that end, it’s very likely that there’s people on the staff at the Winter Olympics who are possibly part of a cell,” said von Gordon.

Including those who have been building the games' venues, said Glen Howard at the Jamestown Foundation, a research institute in Washington, D.C. “You’ve had over 100,000 laborers come from all over Russia to work there, and Central Asia. It is impossible to verify whether all these people that have worked in Sochi as laborers… whether they were a security risk.”

Motive, opportunity

Von Gordon said terrorists may not match the pictures many of us are used to seeing. “We’re looking for the tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed woman. Traditionally, Chechen rebels have used young women, usually widows of soldiers, but that’s not necessarily always the case.”

He’s referring to the so-called “black widows," widows of slain rebel fighters.  

Militants also carry out more conventional attacks, however, like the 2004 takeover of a school in Beslan, where 334 hostages died, more than half of them children.

“Putin has strategically located the Games very close to the Caucasus, where he’s basically daring those people," said von Gordon. "That creates a very dangerous situation, because now you have opportunity. You have motive. You have an unprecedented situation where you have people from all over the world - civilians - participating in a highly publicized event.”

Juan Zarate, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he expected to see cooperation with the international community. But the opposite is happening.

“The Russians have grown more and more concerned over the threat, and are concerned over the perception of insecurity, and therefore have not wanted to allow the United States and other, security services in on the ground to assist,” said Zarate.

While Russia battles a bloody insurgency not far from next month's Winter Olympics, it’s likely the world will be watching to see what happens in the streets of Sochi.

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by: Ron Sturm from: Vancouver, BC, Canada
January 30, 2014 12:53 AM
I am concerned that the Russian Security Forces are not prepared adequately for these games. Putin, as the former Head of the KGB believes numbers compensates for inadequate training. The Olympic grounds are littered with construction debris. If the Russians can't get sites ready, do you think security will be any different? Unlike in Vancouver, where the RCMP co-ordinated security between themselves, the Canadian military and private security forces and they communicated between themselves, the Russian appear to be in disarray. With alcoholism being a dominant problem among the Russian Military and Police Forces I wouldn't recommend relying on them for your safety. Stay away from cramped places, travel by taxis, avoid rapid transit (danger noted by the several recent bombing on public transit or public areas). Be aware of your surroundings, note individuals around you and be sensitive to "strange" or "unusual" behaviour. Always carry a fully charged cell phone and if you can pack an extra fully charged battery. If you gut tells you to leave, listen to your gut instinct and leave. Always plan an escape route and don't travel alone. Enjoy the games but keep your eyes and ears open!

In Response

by: Spencer Maze from: Malibu, Ca
January 30, 2014 5:22 PM
Great post Ron! Very good advice all the way around.


by: Jose79845 from: Texas
January 29, 2014 2:43 PM
US citizens have a higher probability of being shot by the police within the US borders than being killed by a terrorist at the Olympics.


by: Andrew from: NY
January 29, 2014 10:16 AM
I am very concerned about this. There are many world class athletes nd their families here. Let's hope nothing happens.

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