- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Department of State has issued a new travel warning for athletes and spectators traveling to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The report has updated information on possible terrorist threats surrounding the games and warns U.S. citizens that medical care in Sochi is not up to scale with western medical standards. Travelers are being urged to purchase private medical evacuation and/or repatriation insurance.

The State Department’s warning provided more information on recent terrorist attacks near Sochi that are possibly connected to the Olympics. According to the State Department, a radical Islamist group released a video this month claiming responsibility for the recent bombings in Volgograd and promising “a present for tourists” in connection with the Olympic games. Between October 15 and December 30, 2013, there were three suicide bombing targeting public transportation in Volograd, just 600 miles from Sochi.

In July 2013, Doku Umarov, the head of Russian terrorist group the Imirat Kavkaz or IK, released a video message calling for attacks on the Winter Olympics in Russia. The group has targeted civilians, as indirect supporters of the government, and has attacked ski resorts, metro systems, airports, and a theatre according to the State Department’s travel warning.

The State Department said that recent media reports of so-called “black widow” suicide bombers in Sochi have not been corroborated and that officials are continuing to seek further information.

Travelers in Sochi should expect increased police presence and enhanced security measures in and around the Olympic venues. There is no indication of a specific threat to U.S. institutions or citizens, but travelers should be aware of their personal surroundings and follow good security practices. The State Department’s warning also suggested that travelers provide a friend, family member, or coworker a copy of their itinerary while visiting Sochi.

SEE ALSO: Russia to FBI: You’re just Sochi’s security ‘window dressing’

While the U.S. embassy will continue to monitor security in Sochi throughout the Olympics, however, as host country, Russia has prime responsibility for protecting athletes and spectators. The opening ceremony is scheduled for Feb. 7, and U.S. officials are already in Sochi, according to the Associated Press.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Associated Press that he and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have talked to their Russian counterparts about security for the Olympics, including the need to ensure protections for U.S. citizens.

“If we need to extract our citizens, we will have appropriate arrangements with the Russians to do this,” Mr. Hagel said, noting the U.S. will have two warships in the Black Sea during the Games.

“As of right now, the Russians have not requested any specific assistance or technology. We want them to know that if they need our help, we want to help,” Mr. Hagel told Pentagon reporters.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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