With another suicide bombing taking place today in southern Russia some are wondering whether suicide attacks threaten the Sochi Olympics.
The bombing took the lives of 15 people and injured up to 40 others at the entrance to the central train station in the city of Volgograd. The death toll would have been higher if the bomber had managed to get through the security checkpoint as the station was crowded with people waiting for the Moscow train to arrive.
It was the actions of a policeman that provoked the bomber to detonate her bomb prematurely as he approached her. He was killed in the blast along with the bomber.
Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, is 400 miles northeast of Sochi.
It was the second attack in the city in recent months. In October an attack was carried out on a bus which killed seven. That bomber was an Islamist woman from Dagestan in the Caucasus. It is not known yet whether the woman in Sunday’s attack was from the Caucasus. At present there is an Islamic insurgency igniting tensions in the North Caucasus as rebels would like to create a separate Islamic state. Doku Umarov, their leader, has called upon the rebels to strike outside the area and disrupt the games.
The proximity of the bombing to Sochi highlights the potential threat to the Olympics which start in February and the overwhelming logistical task of keeping that threat at bay.
The games are running four times over budget at a whopping $50 billion, making them the most expensive in history, winter or summer. Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned the games into a personal quest to show the world the new Russia, at any cost.
The rebels know it and would like to meddle with his plans. They have a history of suicide attacks and could use the tactic in Sochi. As a result of their meddling Putin has ordered crackdowns and given security agencies a free hand in making it happen. The ensuing security measures are arguably the most sweeping to be introduced to a sporting event ever.
They include a “spectator pass” which can only be bought if passport and contact details are provided. It will give authorities a means of screening all visitors to the games. Once in Sochi, the passes will be used as a means of identification.
A security ring has been established around the Sochi Olympic site extending 25 miles inland and 60 miles along the coast of the Black Sea. In that security ring will be a smorgasbord of security measures to thwart any potential terrorist or suicide attacks. There will be bans on cars from outside the zone leading up to, during and after the games. There will be speed boats patrolling the waters offshore, over 5,000 cameras stationed throughout the city and a means to intercept phone traffic. Over 600 buildings are being given high priority status for special protection and house to house screening is taking place to find and drive out any potential threats.
Additional police have been deployed in the city and special forces are patrolling the hills behind Sochi.
There has been an incredible security build-up in Sochi, but even with all the money and time spent on making Sochi safe for the games, bombings such as the one in Volgograd can happen. One bomber potentially has the power to do great damage. Even with the unprecedented security present suicide attacks still threaten the Sochi Olympics.
By Scott Wilson