Russia hunts for suspects in six killings near Olympic venue
MOSCOW — Russia is hunting for suspects in the murders of six people as part of a counter-terrorism operation in a region near Sochi, the Black Sea resort that will host next month's Winter Olympics.
The acting governor of the Stavropol region, Vladimir Vladimirov, led an emergency meeting with law enforcement and other officials Friday after six bodies riddled with bullets were found Jan. 8 in four parked cars, according to the regional government's website.
Islamic militants are suspected of staging the assassinations to try and destabilize the situation in the area, the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta cited unidentified law-enforcement officials as saying in comments posted on the Investigative Committee's website Friday.
The killings are heightening concerns about security in the run-up to the Olympics days after more than 30 people died in two bomb attacks in Volgograd in southern Russia and a blast killed three on Dec. 27 in the Stavropol regional city of Pyatigorsk, about 275 kilometers (170 miles) east of Sochi. The authorities sealed off the site of the Olympics by deploying 30,000 soldiers and police officers around the resort, where the games are set to open on Feb. 7.
"These crimes are a challenge to the authorities and security structures," Vladimirov said in comments on the regional government website. "Their aim is to create a tense atmosphere and to provoke fear and conflict in society." The government will act to ensure stability in the region and to prevent any illegal acts, he said.
An explosive device planted near one of the vehicles blew up without causing any injuries as police examined the scene, the investigative committee said on its website. Police defused a second homemade bomb discovered near another car, the country's top law-enforcement agency said.
Police officers escaped death because their car took the brunt of the explosion, the government newspaper cited an unidentified law-enforcement official as saying.
Security officials identified three suspects, all from the neighboring mainly Muslim Kabardino-Balkaria region, two of whom were already wanted for other crimes, the Interfax news service reported, citing unidentified local law-enforcement officials. The victims included a taxi driver and a furniture assembler, according to Rossiiskaya Gazeta.
The security swoop started Thursday in two districts of the Stavropol region and includes "special measures and temporary restrictions," the local government said.
A criminal case was opened into the incidents, with the Federal Security Service, the domestic successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB, joining the probe, the Investigative Committee said Thursday.
President Vladimir Putin called for increased security across the country in the aftermath of the Volgograd bombings, calling the attacks "inhuman" in his New Year's Eve address. Russia is spending at least $48 billion to stage the games, more than any other previous organizer.
The terrorist threat level in the Volgograd region will be reduced one notch to "blue" from "yellow," the second- highest assessment in Russia's three-color warning system, RIA Novosti reported Friday. "Blue," which signifies a heightened level of risk, will be in force Jan. 13-19, the state-run news service said, citing an unidentified local security official following a meeting of the regional anti-terrorist commission.
While "yellow" means authorities have reliable information that further attacks are possible, "blue" signals that information needs to be verified.
Six people linked to the Dec. 27 blast in Pyatigorsk were detained, Andrei Chatsky, a spokesman for the National Anti- Terrorist Committee, said in televised comments Friday. The suspects, who include an Azeri citizen, confessed to their involvement in the case and the information gleaned from the detainees helped foil another terror attack, he said.
The regions of Krasnodar — where Sochi is located — and Stavropol border North Caucasus republics including Chechnya and Dagestan, where Russian forces face almost daily attacks by Muslim extremists after two separatist wars since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
More than 400 Cossacks in traditional uniform arrived in Sochi yesterday to patrol the city during the Olympics, RIA Novosti reported, citing an unidentified representative of the group. Cossacks were a military class that served the tsars on the empire's borders before the Russian Revolution in 1917 and have enjoyed a revival since the Soviet Union's collapse.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited the Kursky train station in Moscow yesterday and inspected the security measures implemented there, according to the government's website. Further counter-terrorism precautions should be put in place at major transport hubs, he said.
All liquids will be banned in carry-on luggage at Russian airports as passenger jets remain vulnerable to the threat of terror attacks, Rosaviatsiya, the state airline watchdog, said on its website.