SOCHI – In the wake of bodies and explosives being discovered in the Caucasus Mountains, a stone’s throw from the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi’s security is being ramped up.
The FBI is heading to Russia to help the country secure the site of the Games, which was recently threatened after an explosion in neighboring Volgograd killed 34. On January 8, three bodies were found in the Caucasus Mountains in Stavropol province, with explosives placed near the bodies. Concerns over terrorist threats against the Olympics are not new, but Russia’s longtime struggles with extremists in the region have prompted the FBI to send personnel overseas to help secure the site. The bodies were found a scant 150 miles from the site of the Games.
FBI Director James B. Comey notes that securing the Olympics site is not an easy task.
“I think it’s particularly challenging in Sochi because of its proximity to areas of unrest and sources of a terrorist threat,” he says.
Comey also notes that Russian security is doing everything it can to help address any potential threats.
“I think the Russian government understands the threat and is devoting the resources to address it,” the FBI director told Reuters.
Extremists have threatened action against the site for some time, particularly because the eyes of the globe will be on Sochi. In addition to the bodies found in the mountains, there was a vehicle explosion in Tambukan, also in Stavropol. Two other bodies were found not far away in other vehicles, Russia’s RIA Novosti, the state-run news agency, reported.
It is believed that these recent deaths are the work of Islamist militants in the region, according to the Moscow Carnegie Center. Director Dmitri Trenin says he believes the recent deaths are more to do with the general unrest in the North Caucasus rather than the Olympics. He believes that, because of the global attention on the upcoming Games, any unrest near Sochi is of particular interest.
While Sochi’s security continues to ramp up following the discovery of the bodies and explosives, Cossacks are already in the region to help where they can. They have been deployed to help the local police and offer extra security to athletes and tourists. In an interesting move, they will be wearing fur hats and swords, a uniform sure to leave some wondering if the country is trying to bring shades of tsarist Russia back.
Meanwhile, Chechen activists, led by warlord Doku Emirov, have been told to do whatever they can to disrupt the Games in Sochi. William Rathburn, who headed up security for the 1996 Games in Atlanta, believes that terrorists will have Sochi in their collective crosshairs.
“It’s an opportunity for the Chechen [militants] or anyone else to embarrass Russia or [Russian president Vladimir] Putin,” he says. “It’s clear that the people who conducted the two bombings in Volgograd are willing to indiscriminately kill people.”
While questions remain about the bodies and explosives found, Sochi security will continue to be bumped up until February 7, the day the Games begin. The individual teams in the U.S. are already prepared in the event of an incident, however; the U.S. Ski and snowboard teams are being handled by a private security firm that plans to have as many as five aircraft on standby in the event of an emergency.
By Christina St-Jean