U.S. national security and law enforcement agencies monitoring security at the Sochi Olympics say the southern Russian city faces a high risk of an Islamist terrorism attack. One message from a security analyst to those considering attending the Winter Games: Don’t go.
The Olympics are scheduled for Feb. 6-23 in Sochi, the port city on the western shore of the Black Sea and about 25 miles north of the Russian border with Georgia.
The Islamist threat, however, emanates from separatist terrorists based in the nearby North Caucasus region, which includes the ethnic enclave of Chechnya.
Two recent suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd, about 400 miles north of Sochi, are being viewed as a “taste” of bad things to come in Sochi. The Dec. 29 blast at a rail station and the Dec. 30 explosion on a bus killed a total of 34 people and injured scores.
Russian authorities say the main suspect is Chechen rebel warlord Doku Umarov, head of the Caucasus Emirate. Chechen Islamists are among the many groups fighting in Syria with al Qaeda-linked rebels. The flow of insurgents has heightened concerns that terrorists in Syria will return to Europe and the United States to conduct jihadist attacks.
Russia has mobilized tens of thousands of troops and security officials in an effort to secure the Games. Moscow has created a 1,500-mile security cordon around Sochi in a bid to prevent infiltration by terrorists.
But U.S. officials said the lack of infrastructure in Sochi, specifically roadways, has made the city vulnerable to a mass attack that could disrupt the Games.
Sochi’s 1,384 miles of roads are not interconnected, making detours difficult in the aftermath of a car bombing or even a vehicular accident.
The mountainous road network is not designed to handle a large volume of traffic, and choke points would make ideal targets for attacks and other attempts at disruption.
The 11 hospitals in the region all are on difficult-to-access routes.
The State Department issued a travel alert Friday warning Americans attending the games to “remain attentive” to threats.
“In July 2013, Doku Umarov, the head of the Caucasus Emirate released a video message rescinding prior directions not to attack civilians and calling for attacks on the Winter Olympics in Sochi,” the notice states. “The Caucasus Emirate is responsible for many of the aforementioned attacks. The group has targeted civilians, as indirect supporters of the government, including through attacks on a ski resort, metro system, high-speed rail, airport, and a theater.”
Americans who do attend are advised to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which allows the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to better assist travelers in emergencies. Enrollment can be conducted free online at step.state.gov/step/.
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