News / Europe

Mounting Threats Against Sochi Olympics Worry Terrorism Experts

Mounting Threats Against Sochi Olympics Worry Terrorism Expertsi
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
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.

You May Like

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Indian PM Calls for Unity Amid Tense Climate Over Beef Attacks

Recent series of beef-related incidents seen as signs of rising intolerance toward Muslims and other religious minorities More

Why These Are New York City's Most Treasured Spaces

Under threat of jail time and fines, some New York property owners are not allowed to renovate their spaces without prior approval More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs