Bus bomb­ing raises ten­sions for Sochi

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY MARC BEN­NETTS

MOSCOW | A sui­cide bomb­ing by an Is­lamic mil­i­tant in south­ern Rus­sia last week has raised the specter of ter­ror­ist at­tacks dur­ing the Win­ter Olympics in Fe­bru­ary in Sochi, a Black Sea re­sort about 400 miles south of the bomb at­tack.

Six peo­ple were killed and more than 30 wounded early last week when a fe­male sui­cide bomber det­o­nated an ex­plo­sive de­vice filled with metal ob­jects on a pas­sen­ger bus in the city of Vol­gograd.

“We can draw the con­clu­sion that this is just the start of a planned chain of ter­ror at­tacks,” Rus­sian se­cu­rity an­a­lyst Rus­lan Milchenko told state-run me­dia.

Investigators say the bomber — Naida Asiyalova, 30 — was from Rus­sia’s volatile Dages­tan repub­lic in the mainly Mus­lim North Cau­ca­sus re­gion, just across the moun­tains from Sochi. She was mar­ried to Dmitry Sokolov, an eth­nic Rus­sian who joined ji­hadists in Dages­tan and be­came an adept bomb-maker. He has been a fugi­tive since mid-2012.

Tamer­lan and Dzhokhar Tsar­naev, the Rus­sian-born U.S. cit­i­zens ac­cused of set­ting off bombs at the Bos­ton Marathon in April, hailed from Dages­tan. In ad­di­tion, the North Cau­ca­sus is home to Chech­nya, where Moscow fought two wars against sep­a­ratists in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, rad­i­cal­iz­ing a gen­er­a­tion of Mus­lim youths in the process.

Mil­i­tants fight­ing to es­tab­lish an Is­lamic state in the re­gion have long vowed to tar­get the Win­ter Olympics, which are seen as Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s pet project. With an es­ti­mated cost of $50 bil­lion, the Sochi Olympics are set to be the most ex­pen­sive ever. Rus­sia also hosted the Olympics in 1980, in Moscow.

This sum­mer, the State Depart­ment cau­tioned Amer­i­cans plan­ning to at­tend the Sochi Games about the risk of ter­ror­ist at­tacks, not­ing that the leader of the Cau­ca­sus Emi­rate — the um­brella un­der which ji­hadist fac­tions fight in the area — had called for a ter­ror­ism cam­paign to dis­rupt events.

“We know that they plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our an­ces­tors … on the bones of many, many dead Mus­lims,” Doku Umarov, the emi­rate’s fugi­tive leader, said in a video re­leased July 3.

He called on his fol­low­ers “to use max­i­mum force on the path of Al­lah to dis­rupt this Satanic danc­ing on the bones of our an­ces­tors.”

The State Depart­ment noted that the games would be held “within a hard­ened se­cu­rity perime­ter” and that “the like­li­hood of a suc­cess­ful ter­ror­ist at­tack at an Olympic venue dur­ing the Games is low.”

But it warned that ter­ror­ists might try to strike else­where in Rus­sia dur­ing the games to cap­i­tal­ize on the me­dia at­ten­tion.

Pa­trick San­dusky, spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Com­mit­tee, of­fered a com­ment Tues­day:

“Ev­ery day of the year, Team USA ath­letes are com­pet­ing all over the world and their safety and well-be­ing is al­ways our high­est pri­or­ity. No mat­ter the event — whether it is the Olympic, Par­a­lympic or Pan Amer­i­can Games — or the city — from Bei­jing, to Van­cou­ver, to Guadala­jara, to Lon­don, and in a lit­tle over 100 days, to Sochi — we work dili­gently to keep our ath­letes safe.

“As with pre­vi­ous events, for the Olympic and Par­a­lympic Games in Sochi, we will work closely with the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee, the or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee, our State Depart­ment and all other rel­e­vant gov­ern­ment and law en­force­ment agen­cies to en­sure that our en­tire del­e­ga­tion is safe while in Rus­sia.”

In in a 2007 speech to the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee that is widely credited with se­cur­ing the sport­ing event for Rus­sia, Mr. Putin of­fered a “na­tional pledge” that Sochi would be safe.

That pledge looks set to face a sig­nif­i­cant test: The games are to be held on the front line of Rus­sia’s fight against a lowlevel, per­sis­tent Is­lamic in­sur­gency that has de­fied Krem­lin at­tempts to bring a last­ing peace to the re­gion.

The in­sur­gency leader Umarov has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for a 2010 sui­cide bomb­ing on the Moscow sub­way that killed 40 peo­ple and another at Moscow’s Do­mode­dovo air­port in 2011 that left 37 dead. He then an­nounced a mora­to­rium on at­tacks on civil­ian tar­gets as mass protests against Mr. Putin be­gan in the win­ter of 2011.

How­ever, Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties said in May that they foiled a plot by Umarov to at­tack the Sochi Games, which will host about 2,500 ath­letes from dozens of coun­tries from Feb. 7 to Feb. 23.

Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice (FSB) agents an­nounced that they had de­tained three sus­pected mil­i­tants and seized a weapons cache in Abk­hazia, the Ge­or­gian break­away repub­lic just across the bor­der from Sochi. Investigators said the ex­trem­ists had been plan­ning to move the weapons, which in­cluded sur­face-to-air mis­siles and grenades, to Sochi to carry out at­tacks dur­ing the Win­ter Olympics.

Au­thor­i­ties plan to se­cure Sochi by us­ing drones, ro­botic bomb de­tec­tors and high-speed pa­trol boats to sweep the Black Sea coast­line. Tens of thou­sands of sol­diers and po­lice of­fi­cers also will be de­ployed in the city dur­ing the games.

“There will be so-called con­trolled and for­bid­den zones in and around Sochi,” an FSB of­fi­cial said this year.

“The Sochi se­cu­rity op­er­a­tion is a real pri­or­ity for the au­thor­i­ties,” said An­drei Solda­tov, a lead­ing an­a­lyst on Rus­sia’s se­cu­rity ser­vices. “But the ques­tion is, how ad­e­quately can they re­spond to the chal­lenge?”

Mr. Solda­tov said he be­lieves the FSB and the In­te­rior Min­istry would at­tempt to “imi­tate the ap­proach used by the Soviet se­cret ser­vices at the 1980 Moscow Olympics but with the ad­di­tion of cut­ting-edge sur­veil­lance tech­nol­ogy.”

“The idea is the same,” he said. “Ev­ery­thing should be un­der com­plete con­trol, with any unau­tho­rized ac­tiv­i­ties pre­vented by all means.”

But south­ern Rus­sia has had three sui­cide bomb­ings in re­cent months, and Solda­tov ex­pressed un­cer­tainty that au­thor­i­ties will be able to pre­vent all at­tacks on the games. He also sug­gested that this week’s blast in Vol­gograd could have been a “di­ver­sion­ary” ac­tion ahead of a more spec­tac­u­lar at­tack.

The In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee has sought to calm fears about an at­tack on the Sochi Games.

“Se­cu­rity at the games is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, and we have no doubt that the Rus­sians will be up to the task,” the IOC said this year.

The Olympics were tar­geted by mil­i­tants at the 1972 Mu­nich Games. Mem­bers of the Pales­tinian group Black Septem­ber killed 11 Is­raeli ath­letes and coaches in the Olympic Vil­lage.

Shaun Water­man in Wash­ing­ton con­trib­uted to this re­port.


A bus in Vol­gograd, Rus­sia, was re­duced to wreck­age af­ter a fe­male pas­sen­ger set off a bomb, killing six peo­ple and in­jur­ing about 30, of­fi­cials said. The at­tack added to se­cu­rity fears ahead of the Win­ter Olympics in the south­ern Rus­sian re­sort city of Sochi.

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