Are we seeing a terrorist group telegraph its bloody punches? First there was a video showing some Islamic terrorists warning of a possible attack on the winter Olympics in Sochi. Next came reports that a “white widow” suicide bomber had been spotted in the area. Combine it: winter Olympics that’ll be particularly tense with security out in force and terrorists seeking to make some kind of statement when the games are played.
How bad is the threat? The U.S. military has plans ready to evacuate Americans, just in case.
A video threatening attacks on the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the reported spotting of a suspected “white widow” volunteer for suicide bombing have intensified security concerns for the event and prompted U.S. military plans to evacuate Americans in a worst-case scenario.
Russian and international media reported Monday that security forces in Sochi had circulated bulletins to hotels and event sites in the Black Sea resort warning that several widows of Caucasus separatist fighters were suspected of trying to reach Sochi to carry out suicide attacks to discredit the Games’ Russian hosts.
One of the so-called white widows, Ruzana Ibragimova, is believed to have arrived in Sochi on Jan. 10 or 11 and has been spotted in central Sochi in recent days, security analyst Alexander Valov said he was told by an official of Russia’s FSB federal security force, the Moscow Times reported.
Agence France-Presse reported from Sochi that “wanted” posters had been circulated depicting four women suspected of being engaged in terrorist plots to press the independence causes of Muslim populations in the Caucasus Mountains region that are agitating for an Islamic-ruled state.
As the Olympic torch traveled Monday through Volgograd, scene of three deadly suicide bombings since October, U.S. security officials reiterated appeals for closer collaboration with Russia.
The U.S. has stepped up its anti-terrorism preps:
The Pentagon will have two warships and a number of C-17 transport aircraft on standby in the region to assist Russian security services in responding to any terrorist attack, CNN quoted an unnamed U.S. security official as saying.
Any role for U.S. military personnel in getting help to the estimated 15,000 Americans expected to travel to Sochi for the Games would be contingent on Moscow’s request for assistance, the official told CNN.
“We can’t do anything without the permission of the Russian services,” said Mike Baker, a former CIA covert operations officer also interviewed by the network. He described the Russian security operations as “very nationalistic,” with the view that responsibility for protecting the Games’ venues is “their turf.”
And there’s multiple reasons for concern:
Concerns about violence at the Games have run high since recent suicide bombings in nearby Volgograd killed 34 people. Sochi is located relatively near the North Caucasus region, where Islamist militants have waged a long, bloody insurgency.
Russian officials have insisted they can hold a safe Games, flooding Sochi with thousands upon thousands of police, troops and security personnel.
At the same time, CNN reported that authorities have handed out fliers in the Black Sea resort, warning hotels to keep an eye out for a potential female terrorist who may be in the area.
Russianization of Security Protocol in Sochi means that in case of terrorist attack…more bystanders will be killed versus terrorists…
— Hiromasa Shimajiri (@SouthernF124788) January 20, 2014
Ahead of Sochi, many are concerned by Russia's ineffective anti-terrorism approach. http://t.co/heVqrQR482
— Khodorkovsky Center (@mbk_center) January 20, 2014
Terrorists promise to kill Olympics tourists, US Senator says not safe http://t.co/GSAwJPxcIw
— CA (@Criticalanglez) January 20, 2014
Fears 'jihadist widow' in Olympic zone: AMERICAN counterterrorism operatives have joined Russian security agen… http://t.co/clUH2v951V
— Milvec22 (@Milvec22) January 20, 2014
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.