U.S., European security officials worry about Sochi-related attacks

WASHINGTON Thu Feb 6, 2014 7:00pm EST

A Russian soldier stands in front of the flags during the welcoming ceremony for the U.S Olympic team in the Athletes Village at the Olympic Park ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi February 6, 2014. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

A Russian soldier stands in front of the flags during the welcoming ceremony for the U.S Olympic team in the Athletes Village at the Olympic Park ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi February 6, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Intelligence agencies believe attacks by militants during the Sochi Winter Olympics are highly likely, but will probably be aimed at "softer" targets elsewhere in Russia, such as public transportation or other civilian venues, U.S. and European officials said.

Several U.S. and European security officials said that last-minute intelligence reports about possible Olympics-related attacks have continued to flow into Western agencies and that U.S. and European agencies take them very seriously.

"I'm more concerned now than a week ago," one U.S. official said on Thursday. He said there are multiple militant groups who have indicated they intend to carry out attacks during the Games. The official and other officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The U.S. official added that, while security at the Olympic venues is formidable, there are potential soft targets not far outside the Olympic perimeter where militants might be able to attack, attracting huge media coverage.

At a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee earlier this week, Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center said, "We think the ... greater danger from a terrorist perspective is in potential for attacks to occur outside of the actual venues of the games themselves in the area surrounding Sochi or outside of Sochi in the region."

Other officials said the Russian capitol, Moscow, could be high on militants lists' of potential targets.

In a sign of heightened concern, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is temporarily banning all liquids, aerosols, gels and powders in carry-on luggage on flights between Russia and the United States, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official said on Thursday.

"As always, our security posture, which at all times includes a number of measures both seen and unseen, will continue to respond and appropriately adapt to protect the American people from an ever evolving threat picture," the official said.

Delta Airlines posted a statement on its website saying that Russia-bound passengers would still be able to place liquids, gels, aerosols and powders in checked baggage. However, passengers headed to Russia will be required to check in personally with a Delta agent at the airport and will not be able to use automatic or online check-in facilities.

Some U.S. officials on Thursday played down the significance of a disclosure that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had warned airlines to be on guard for toothpaste containers that could contain bomb-making ingredients.

Officials confirmed the warning had been issued. But several officials said that it was based on intelligence that was collected some time ago and that little, if any, new information had surfaced to confirm that any toothpaste plot related to Sochi was in progress.

Sill, U.S. and European security officials said multiple militant elements pose significant and current Olympic-related threats.

The main threat, said both European and U.S. officials, is posed by the Caucasus-based Imarat Kavkaz movement, which has attacked a Moscow airport and the capital's subway system. Officials said they could not confirm rumors that the group's leader, Doku Umarov, who last July called on his followers to disrupt the Olympics, had been killed.

Even if Umarov is dead, security officials believe the group is decentralized and its commanders are sufficiently autonomous to carry out attacks on their own.

Some officials said that attacks could also be attempted by "lone wolf" militants or returnees who had been fighting with militant factions in Syria. But such attacks are thought less likely.

Laith Alkhouri of Flashpoint Partners, a private firm which monitors militant websites for government and private customers, noted that militants have had "months and months to plan" Olympic-related attacks.

"Although the Russian government was also preparing for the games all this time, many of its security measures were ad hoc and reactionary, which might be a point of weakness in their security design," he said.

Alkhouri also said Russian security forces had recently stepped up their operations in the Caucasus, most notably in Dagestan, a militant hotbed. He added, however, that "the Caucasus militants are security-cautious, tech-savvy, highly motivated, and cannot be profiled easily."

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Comments (2)
RobertFrost wrote:
This is a strong case of “The grapes are sour.”

Once a thieving fox tried to get into a vineyard, not being able to get into it through through the fence, he declared his assessment of the quality of the grapes thus.

The same it seems with the US media, who are in the usual unison in struggling to “engineer public opinion” not against the Olympics but against Russia. It is all “gloom and doom” – we are given to believe.

This was the subject of the address of the Chairman of the International Olympics Committee yesterday. He pleaded with those spreading rumors, innuendos and horror stories to leave politics aside, as indeed is the solemn intention of Olympic Games. To no avail it seems.

Terror “that would engulf the games” in Sochi is one theme. This is propounded while the US plans to supply weapons to terrorists in Syria – and since most are allied with Al-Qa’ida, into the hands of the 9/11 criminals.

The attitude of the Russians to gays, which only time would remove, as indeed it is happening in the US, is another theme. It does not matter that Saudi Arabia, a close and trusted ally of the US, has had similar laws against gays as Russia recently enacted. But the question is are gays in the US not discriminated against – and loudly in Congress?

We shall watch the games, like other millions in the US and around the world, and feel the pride in humanity and achievements, as thousands of athletes rush to compete in the most opulent and beautiful settings the Russian people prepared.

Just who would be listening to NBC, CNN, ABC and others trashing the Olympics?

Feb 06, 2014 8:28pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Tiu wrote:
I wonder if they will use the same kind of satanic opening ceremony the olympics in London used.

Feb 07, 2014 4:20am EST  --  Report as abuse
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