SOCHI TERROR THREAT IS REAL
U.S. national security and law enforcement agencies monitoring security at the Sochi Olympics say the southern Russian city faces a high risk of an Islamist terrorism attack. One message from a security analyst to those considering attending the Winter Games: Don’t go.
The Olympics are scheduled for Feb. 6-23 in Sochi, the port city on the western shore of the Black Sea and about 25 miles north of the Russian border with Georgia.
The Islamist threat, however, emanates from separatist terrorists based in the nearby North Caucasus region, which includes the ethnic enclave of Chechnya.
Two recent suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd, about 400 miles north of Sochi, are being viewed as a “taste” of bad things to come in Sochi. The Dec. 29 blast at a rail station and the Dec. 30 explosion on a bus killed a total of 34 people and injured scores.
Russian authorities say the main suspect is Chechen rebel warlord Doku Umarov, head of the Caucasus Emirate. Chechen Islamists are among the many groups fighting in Syria with al Qaeda-linked rebels. The flow of insurgents has heightened concerns that terrorists in Syria will return to Europe and the United States to conduct jihadist attacks.
Russia has mobilized tens of thousands of troops and security officials in an effort to secure the Games. Moscow has created a 1,500-mile security cordon around Sochi in a bid to prevent infiltration by terrorists.
But U.S. officials said the lack of infrastructure in Sochi, specifically roadways, has made the city vulnerable to a mass attack that could disrupt the Games.
Sochi’s 1,384 miles of roads are not interconnected, making detours difficult in the aftermath of a car bombing or even a vehicular accident.
The mountainous road network is not designed to handle a large volume of traffic, and choke points would make ideal targets for attacks and other attempts at disruption.
The 11 hospitals in the region all are on difficult-toaccess routes.
The State Department issued a travel alert Friday warning Americans attending the games to “remain attentive” to threats.
“In July 2013, Doku Umarov, the head of the Caucasus Emirate … released a video message rescinding prior directions not to attack civilians and calling for attacks on the Winter Olympics in Sochi,” the notice states. “The Caucasus Emirate is responsible for many of the aforementioned attacks. The group has targeted civilians, as indirect supporters of the government, including through attacks on a ski resort, metro system, high-speed rail, airport, and a theater.”
Americans who do attend are advised to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which allows the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to better assist travelers in emergencies. Enrollment can be conducted free online at step.state. gov/step/.
According to the newsletter, the SVR plan calls for taking Mr. Assad and his family to Russia. Currently in Russia is Mohamed Makhlouf, Mr. Assad’s maternal uncle and father of Hafez Makhlouf, vice director or Syrian state security.
The SVR plan calls for the Assads initially to travel to the Makhlouf family farm in the Yaafour region on the border with Lebanon, which is said to have secure underground bunkers.
“The SVR, which has a strong presence in Syria, will then see to it that the president and his family are transferred to the Russian naval base in Tartus, some 350 kilometers away, by helicopter,” the newsletter reported Nov. 9.
“To avoid being shot at by rebel rockets on the way, the air convoy will fly over Lebanon where its security will be guaranteed by Hezbollah units positioned along the border. Once they have reached Tartus, the Assads will be evacuated on board the Novocherkassk or the Minsk, two Russian helicopter carriers that are currently cruising the Mediterranean.” warning stated that Chinese navy ships would be conducting training from Dec. 3 to Jan. 3 and that foreign ships must not sail too close.
Still, Chinese state-run propaganda outlets criticized the United States for not heeding the unissued warning.
The official Xinhua News Agency stated Dec. 18 that “even before the navy training began, the Chinese maritime authority posted a navigation notice on its website, and the U.S. warship … intentionally carried on with its surveillance of China’s aircraft carrier and triggered the confrontation.”
The official People’s Liberation Army newspaper also blamed the U.S. for not observing the warning.
A recent wave of violence in Russia, including the bombing of a trolleybus in Volgograd on Dec. 30 (above), has stoked fears that Sochi, the site of this year’s Winter Olympics, will be a target of an Islamist terror attack during the games.