- - Monday, December 30, 2013

MOSCOW — Two deadly bombings within 24 hours in the southern Russian city of Volgograd have highlighted the vulnerability of “soft” targets before the Winter Olympics begin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in February, sparking fears that militant fighters could be planning a major offensive.

“Today, Volgograd was hit, but there is very little the security forces can do to stop a determined suicide bomber,” said analyst Maxim Agarkov, a former Russian Interior Ministry official. “Even the high level of security in Sochi wouldn’t be able to entirely guard against attacks.”

Russian authorities ordered increased security units at train stations, bus depots and other facilities across the country Monday after a suicide bomber killed 14 people on an electric bus in Volgograd, less than 24 hours after a similar attack killed at least 15 people at a railway station in the same city.

In addition, Russian media reported Monday that hundreds of police have been redeployed from Volgograd in recent weeks to assist with the security operation in Sochi, leaving the city vulnerable to attack.

“[Militants] carry out explosions wherever they can,” Andrei Serenko, a political commentator in Volgograd, said in comments carried by the Vestnik Kavkaza news website. “And today Volgograd is seen as a soft target.”

With Russia reeling in the aftermath of the two bombings, the White House offered Monday to assist with security at the Winter Olympics.

“The United States stands in solidarity with the Russian people against terrorism,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. “The U.S. government has offered our full support to the Russian government in security preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games, and we would welcome the opportunity for closer cooperation for the safety of the athletes, spectators and other participants.”

The comments may indicate that U.S. officials fear for the safety of Americans at the games, which get under way Feb. 7.

Russia gave no immediate response to the U.S. offer.

In London, the president of the International Olympic Committee expressed confidence that Russian authorities will provide for a “safe and secure” event in Sochi despite the bombings.

“This is a despicable attack on innocent people and the entire Olympic Movement joins me in utterly condemning this cowardly act,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the victims.”

More than 30 people have been killed and dozens injured in suicide bombings this week in Volgograd — first on Sunday at the city’s main train station and again Monday morning in a crowded bus. The city also was hit in October, when a female suicide bomber killed six in an attack on a bus.

Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, is 400 miles northeast of Sochi and 550 miles south of Moscow.

The city was attacked in the aftermath of a call by the leader of Russia’s Islamist insurgency, Doku Umarov, for his followers to use “any methods Allah allows us” to disrupt the Winter Games.

Umarov, who is Chechen, has claimed responsibility for several high-profile militant attacks, including a bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport in January 2011 that killed 37 people. His Caucasus Emirate movement is seeking to carve out an Islamic state in Russia’s mainly Muslim Caucasus region.

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