Concerns of terrorist strikes occurring in or around Sochi remain high, according to U.S. officials, despite a generally smooth security process at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia thus far.
Questions over security and threats of potential terrorist attacks had largely overshadowed talk of the games themselves in the run-up to last week’s opening ceremonies — and those threats remain, according to key Capitol Hill lawmakers.
Rep. Mike McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the security surrounding the games is heavily fortified with both Russian and international personnel, but that the U.S. should be “very concerned” with air travel into Sochi and about “black widow” suicide bombers — widows of Chechen rebels who have been killed by Russians.
“I think there’s a high degree of probability that something will detonate, something will go off, but I do think it’s probably most likely to happen outside of the … Olympic Village,” Mr. McCaul said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Mr. McCaul pointed to suicide bombs that went off on a bus and at a rail station in Volgograd, Russia, in December, killing more than 30 people, and threats from Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov.
“[T]he eyes of the world are upon these Olympics, and the Chechen extremists know this,” Mr. McCaul said. “And they want to make a global statement, they want to make a jihad statement, and what better time to do it than right now? And that is, I think, the biggest threat to these Olympics.”
Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said there is indeed concern, particularly outside the heavily fortified ring of security around the games.
Mr. Rogers commended Russia for a robust “guards, gates and guns” security presence, as well as the country’s “aggressive counterterrorism operations,” but he said on ABC’s “This Week” that one weakness has been a lack of information- and intelligence-sharing between Russia and the U.S.
Former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who is leading the U.S. delegation to the games, said security is always a concern at major international events — particularly Sochi because of its proximity to war-torn regions — but that things have been good thus far.
“Listen, as the leader of the U.S. delegation, all I can say is that what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard seems that the level of security is quite appropriate and is very good,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And I hope that the attention of the media and the world turns now more to what the athletes are going to do, instead of the threats that are being made.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday” that it “wouldn’t be wise to be broadcasting that you’re from the United States,” but that the risks in Sochi are manageable.
“If people stay where they’re supposed to, they don’t vary off into uncharted areas, minimize the time that they spend in train stations and minimize the degree to which they demonstrate where they come from,” he said, “I think the risks can be contained … all things considered, I think that it’s relatively and manageably safe to be at the games.”
• David Sherfinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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