Terrorist threat to Olympic teams called hoax, still adds to Sochi tension
By CAROL J. WILLIAMS | Los Angeles Times | Published: January 22, 2014
U.S. and European national teams headed to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, have received emailed threats of terrorist strikes on their athletes and supporters if they participate in the high-profile event that is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pet project, news agencies reported Wednesday.
Although the messages received by the national Olympics offices continued to sharpen concern about security at the Games next month, the International Olympic Committee said the anonymous warnings lacked credibility.
“I am very pleased to inform everyone that both the IOC and the Sochi Organizing Committee ... declared after the analysis of the letter that this threat is not real,” Zsigmond Nagy of the Hungarian Olympic Committee was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.
U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Scott Blackmun confirmed that the American team had also received a warning not to go to Sochi, which he said was relayed to security officials.
“We have received the email in question and we have forwarded the message to the appropriate authorities,” Blackmun told Reuters. “The safety and security of Team USA is our top priority.”
IOC officials told reporters at the organization’s Swiss headquarters that the emails had been sent from a location outside Russia by a person who previously has made empty threats.
“It’s a fake mail from a sender in Israel, who has been active with various threats for a few years,” Wolfgang Eichler, spokesman for the Austrian Olympic team, told his country’s APA news agency.
Britain, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Slovakia also reported receiving threatening emails, the Associated Press reported.
In spite of the assurances that the latest warning was fake, tension continued to soar and fear persisted that the prestigious competition could be targeted by the region’s Islamic insurgents.
A 40,000-strong army of Russian security troops has deployed across the Olympic venues, from the seaside indoor arenas and accommodations at Sochi to the mountain sports competition areas almost 40 miles away. Wanted posters depicting several widows of slain Caucasus independence fighters have been circulated to hotels to alert hospitality industry workers to be on the lookout for the women suspected of being part of suicide-bombing plots.
Three suicide bombings in Volgograd, a gateway city to the volatile Caucasus region, have been carried out since October, killing 34 people in the city formerly known as Stalingrad. A video purported to be made by the suicide bombers who struck in late December was posted on the Internet last weekend and warned that the militants fighting for an independent Caucasus Emirate planned further attacks during the Feb. 7-23 Olympics.
Putin and President Barack Obama spoke by telephone Tuesday, the White House reported, and the U.S. government offered its “full assistance” with security preparations for the Games.
At a meeting Tuesday in Brussels, Russian military Chief of Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey met and discussed possible sharing of U.S. bomb-detecting equipment.
“The U.S. would share technical information on the counter-IED (improvised explosive device) efforts … and if it is compatible with Russian equipment, we will look to provide that information to Russia in time for the Games,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
But the head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Vyacheslav Nikonov, told the Moscow Times that he was skeptical that Russian and U.S. authorities could overcome their mutual distrust enough to cooperate effectively in sharing technology to deter threats.
Nikonov pointed to last year’s bombings at the Boston Marathon as an example of forewarning of Russian militant activity in the United States that he said U.S. authorities “ignored.”
The bombing, which killed three people and injured scores, was allegedly carried out by ethnic Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev. Russian security services allegedly had alerted U.S. counterparts to the brothers’ contact with Islamic extremists during trips to Dagestan.