SOCHI TER­ROR THREAT IS REAL

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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