Sochi: ‘Ring of steel’ ver­sus stealth of ter­ror­ists

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

Rus­sia has erected a “ring of steel” and the U.S. mil­i­tary is plan­ning for evac­u­a­tions, but the fact re­mains that Sochi, the site of next month’s Win­ter Olympics, is within strik­ing dis­tance of Dages­tan and Chech­nya — volatile re­gions that form a cal­dron for Is­lamic mil­i­tants.

Ter­ror­ists al­ready have demon­strated that they can hit tar­gets in Moscow and last month sent two sui­cide bombers to the trans­porta­tion hub of Vol­gograd. Their ex­plo­sions killed at least 34 com­muters at a rail sta­tion and on a bus.

“Sochi is eas­ily the most threat­ened Olympic Games since Mu­nich in 1972,” said Bruce Hoff­man, di­rec­tor of the Center for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity who has ad­vised the CIA and U.S. mil­i­tary on coun­tert­er­ror­ism.

The Olympics “will take place in a city bor­der­ing an al­ready restive re­gion and in a coun­try where in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity li­ai­son with the West is prob­lem­at­i­cal,” Mr. Hoff­man said. “Even if the games them­selves are se­cured, the threat of ter­ror­ism in other parts of Rus­sia and the Cau­ca­sus can­not be dis­missed, given last month’s backto-back at­tacks in Vol­gograd. The po­ten­tial, there­fore, for ter­ror­ist in­ci­dents else­where to dis­rupt or oth­er­wise mar the games can­not be pru­dently dis­missed.”

Last week, po­lice in Sochi said they were search­ing for at least one “black widow,” a fe­male sui­cide bomber who might have slipped past se­cu­rity sur­round­ing the site of the Olympics, which open Feb. 7. Iden­ti­fied on wanted posters as Ruzanna Ibrag­i­mova, she is a 22-year-old widow whose mil­i­tant hus­band was killed in a gun­fight with po­lice in Dages­tan last year.

Still, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin is vow­ing that ter­ror­ism will not hap­pen in Sochi, a Black Sea re­sort about 300 miles west of Dages­tan and Chech­nya. The for­mer KGB of­fi­cer has de­ployed 40,000 po­lice and spe­cial op­er­a­tions troops to keep out any in­vaders.

“The job of the Olympics host is to as­sure se­cu­rity of the par­tic­i­pants in the Olympics and visi­tors,” Mr. Putin told ABC News. “We will do what­ever it takes.”

His forces have es­tab­lished a wide se­cu­rity perime­ter — the “ring of steel” — that blocks roads, train sta­tions, the air­port and routes out of the Cau­ca­sus Moun­tains.

Mean­while, the Pen­tagon will de­ploy at least two war­ships and sev­eral trans­port air­craft in the Black Sea near Sochi to re­spond to any ter­ror­ist at­tack and help evac­u­ate Amer­i­can ath­letes and of­fi­cials, top U.S. of­fi­cials said Mon­day. The State Depart­ment will take the lead if evac­u­a­tions be­come nec­es­sary.

The ships will have he­li­copters that could fly Amer­i­cans out of the coun­try. Air­craft on standby in Ger­many could be at Sochi in about two hours, if needed.

Mr. Putin has dis­tanced him­self from U.S. in­tel­li­gence and mil­i­tary sup­port and said Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties must ap­prove any pri­vate se­cu­rity for ath­letes.

“We have ad­e­quate means avail­able to us through the fed­eral se­cu­rity ser­vice, the In­te­rior Min­istry, armed forces units that will be in­volved in pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity on the wa­ter and in the air,” he said. “If nec­es­sary, all those tools will be ac­ti­vated.”

In re­cent weeks, Mr. Putin has put his spe­cial op­er­a­tions prow­ess on dis­play con­duct­ing sweeps of known mil­i­tant ar­eas.

The pro-Putin strong­man of Chech­nya, Ramzan Kady­rov, last week an­nounced the death of lead­ing Chechen mil­i­tant Doku Umarov, whose Cau­ca­sus Emi­rate has threat­ened the games. The “black widow” — Ms. Ibrag­i­mova — is sus­pected to be linked to the Is­lamist group.

“The threats as I see them are def­i­nitely from the Chechen rebels and like-minded ji­hadis that have joined them, in­clud­ing those that will claim al­le­giance to al Qaeda and the Mus­lim Brother­hood,” said for­mer CIA of­fi­cer Bart Bech­tel. “I am of the mind that if there are any ter­ror­ist at­tacks dur­ing the games, they will oc­cur in lo­ca­tions that are not as well pro­tected. Be­cause there, ter­ror­ists will want broad me­dia cov­er­age to dis­tract and de­tract from the games, larger cities would be my guess. Air­ports and train sta­tions, sub­ways and ma­jor ho­tels are all po­ten­tial tar­gets.”

Mil­i­tants on Sun­day posted a chill­ing self-por­trait video of the two Vol­gograd killers as they pur­port­edly trav­eled to their tar­gets. They made a di­rect threat on the Olympics.

“We’ll have a sur­prise pack­age for you,” one of them said, ac­cord­ing to ABC News. “And those tourists that will come to you, for them, too, we have a sur­prise. If it [the Olympics] hap­pens, we’ll have a sur­prise for you. This is for all the Mus­lim blood that is shed ev­ery day around the world, be it in Afghanistan, So­ma­lia, Syria, all around the world. This will be our re­venge.”

Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Repub­li­can, said the two be­longed to An­sar al-Sun­nah, an al Qaeda-linked group from Iraq.

“All the brief­ings I re­ceived from the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, to the FBI and oth­ers, in­di­cate that there are se­ri­ous con­cerns and that we need to do a lot to step up se­cu­rity,” Mr. McCaul told ABC News. “I do be­lieve Putin is do­ing a lot of that. Th­ese are the largest se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions for any Olympic Games in the his­tory of the Olympics.”

Umarov called on his fol­low­ers to carry out at­tacks to dis­rupt the Olympics in any way.

“I think you’re go­ing to see at­tempts to do that. I think it’s more likely that the at­tacks would prob­a­bly hap­pen out­side of the perime­ter in more soft tar­gets, trans­porta­tion modes, if you will,” said Mr. McCaul, who was en route to Sochi to sur­vey se­cu­rity prepa­ra­tions.

Ken Allard, a re­tired Army in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, said the Rus­sians have long ex­pe­ri­ence in deal­ing with do­mes­tic ter­ror­ists.

“They have ex­pe­ri­ence on both ends of that prob­lem,” he said. “The KGB fought anti-Soviet sep­a­ratists while also sponsoring ter­ror against the West. So they can be a lot more ruth­less than any Western democ­racy.”

Mr. Allard sad Mr. Putin has staked his rep­u­ta­tion on keep­ing the Games in­su­lated from ter­ror­ists and will do “the ruth­less thing, if need be.”

“All that said, nei­ther Sovi­ets nor Rus­sians have been com­pletely suc­cess­ful against Chechen sep­a­ratists, both for ide­o­log­i­cal and na­tion­al­ist rea­sons. So I think Putin will do his best to lock things up,” he said. “And no, he may not be com­pletely suc­cess­ful.”

Jac­que­line Kli­mas con­trib­uted to this re­port.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A video was posted online by an Is­lamic mil­i­tant group claim­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for bomb­ings last month that killed 34 peo­ple in Vol­gograd, Rus­sia.

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