Terror Stalks Olympics Following Double Russian Bombing

Image: Terror Stalks Olympics Following Double Russian Bombing A police officer with a sniffer dog and security guards check a bus entering the Olympic Park in Sochi, Russia.

Monday, 30 Dec 2013 12:35 PM

By Lisa Barron

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The Winter Olympics, set to open in Russia in less than six weeks, have been thrown into chaos after two terrorist bombs killed 31 people in a city that thousands of spectators will travel through on their way to the games in Sochi.

Already the Australian team is considering pulling out of the games following the explosions in Volgograd, the regional transportation hub.

And U.S. authorities are cooperating with Russian authorities as a crackdown on Islamic separatists from the troubled North Caucasus region is seen as inevitable.

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The bombings have been linked to separatists from the Russian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan — the area that spawned Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The head of the Russian Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, said Monday that no extra security measures would be adopted despite the attacks, the first time a top-ranking Russian official has spoken out about concerns that the games could be targeted, reports the state-owned RAI Novosti.

"Concerning the Olympic Games in Sochi, all necessary security measures are provided for, and extra security measures in light of the act of terrorism in Volgograd will not be taken, because everything needed is done," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin for his part has ordered tighter security nationwide but has not addressed the attacks publicly.

The second attack in Volgograd — formerly known as Stalingrad — killed at least 14 and injured 28, when an explosion ripped apart a trolley bus, one day after an explosion killed at least 17 people in the city's main rail station.

Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee, said the bomb used was packed with shrapnel that was "identical" to that in the rail station bombing and was set off by a suicide bomber, reports Russia Today.

Sergey Avdienko, a retired police colonel and former Interpol officer, told the network  that the attacks were carried out by Islamic militants from the volatile North Caucasus.

"It's quite clear who is behind these attacks — it's people from a place fairly close to Volgograd; I'm speaking about the Caucasus, where radical Islamic groups thrive. The entire point of doing this, especially on the cusp of the New Year, is to intimidate the population and to destabilize the situation in the country as well, particularly in view of the coming Olympic Games," he said.

Volgograd, about 400 miles northeast of Sochi, is a key transport hub for the region.
In July, Doku Umarov, head of the Caucasus Emirate, considered to be a terrorist organization by the State Department, vowed to target Sochi explicitly, calling the games ''satanic," reports CNN.

''They plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims, buried on the territory of our land on the Black Sea, and we Mujahedeen are obliged not to permit that — using any methods allowed us by the almighty Allah," he said in a video statement.

Umarov was a rebel leader in Chechnya's separatist fight in the early 1990s, which evolved into an Islamic insurgency that has spread through neighboring Muslim republics, including Dagestan.

The Russia Foreign Ministry on Monday likened the Volgograd bombings to "terrorist attacks" in the US, Syria or elsewhere, organized by groups with the "same motivator," and expressed "deep appreciation" to all world leaders who condemned the attacks, according to RT.

The State Department issued a statement on Sunday  saying, "The United States condemns in the strongest terms today's terrorist attack in Volgograd. We send our sincere condolences to the families of the victims and stand in solidarity with the Russian people against terrorism of any kind."

The White House also issued a statement saying President Barack Obama had been briefed on the situation and that the U.S. and Russia were cooperating on anti-terrorism leading up to the Olympics.

Putin's silence as his pet Olympics project appeared in danger of being thrown into chaos was seen as surprising. "Putin may be hesitating to speak out because any alarmist statements from him might indeed cast doubt on the security of the Olympics at Sochi, which is much closer than Volgograd to the terrorist hotbeds of the North Caucasus," Leonid Bershidsky, an editor and novelist, wrote in Bloomberg View

"Security is already extra tight at the Olympic venue, and law enforcement chiefs know Putin won't forgive them for allowing anyone to mess with an Olympic showcase that has cost $48 billion to stage," he added.

But the bombings are having international repercussions. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the country could pull out of the games.

"We don't want to lightly prevent our athletes participating in any event for which they have trained for years, but their safety and the safety of their families and other spectators is of the utmost concern," Bishop told The Australian newspaper.

The 22nd Winter Olympics are due to begin in Sochi on Feb. 6 and run for 17 days. The city was chosen as host in 2007, despite fears of violence from groups linked with the independence moves in the nearby republics.

In 2010 Time Magazine raised fears that Sochi, a resort town on the Black Sea near the Russian border with Georgia would be safe, citing at least four groups that could set of a bomb in a crowded square in broad daylight.

"We are preparing to hold the Games in what is virtually the front line in our war on terrorism," said former KGB Col. Oleg Nechiporenko, chief analyst for Russia's National Anti-Terrorist and Anti-Criminal Fund.

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