As Sochi Olympics Draw Closer, Terrorism Does, Too

A recent string of deadly attacks in Russia forebodes more violence ahead of the Winter Games.

A picture taken on September 25, 2013, shows the Iceberg figure-skating and short-track venue arena in the Olympic Park in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
National Journal
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Marina Koren
Dec. 30, 2013, 6:46 a.m.

A ter­ri­fy­ing pat­tern is slowly form­ing in Rus­sia.

Dur­ing rush hour Monday, a bomb det­on­ated on a trol­ley­bus, killing 14 people in the city of Vol­go­grad. The day be­fore, an ex­plo­sion at the city’s main train sta­tion killed 17 people and wounded dozens. In Oc­to­ber, a bus blast that killed sev­en was caught on a driver’s dash­board cam.

Vol­go­grad, about 400 miles north­east of So­chi, has be­come a tar­get for sui­cide bomb­ings. The city is a ma­jor trans­port­a­tion hub for people trav­el­ing from Mo­scow and cent­ral Rus­sia to So­chi, where the Winter Olympic Games will be held in Feb­ru­ary.

Vol­go­grad also houses the rail sta­tion that leads to and from the North Cau­cas­us, where Chechens and Rus­si­ans — di­vided in re­li­gious, cul­tur­al, and polit­ic­al be­liefs — have been locked in con­flict for years. Chechen sep­ar­at­ist groups from this re­gion are usu­ally the sus­pects in ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Rus­sia, and the re­cent deadly at­tacks sug­gest they could just be get­ting star­ted.

In Ju­ly, the Chechen sep­ar­at­ist group Cau­cas­us Emir­ate, the or­gan­iz­a­tion sus­pec­ted in Monday’s bomb­ing, re­leased a video state­ment prom­ising vi­ol­ence dur­ing the games. The Rus­si­ans, said the group’s lead­er Doku Umarov, “plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our an­cest­ors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims bur­ied on the ter­rit­ory of our land on the Black Sea, and we Mu­ja­hedeen are ob­liged not to per­mit that — us­ing any meth­ods al­lowed us by the almighty Al­lah.”

The U.S. State De­part­ment con­siders the Cau­cas­us Emir­ate a for­eign ter­ror­ist group, and of­fers a $5 mil­lion re­ward for in­form­a­tion about Umarov’s loc­a­tion. The White House con­demned the latest at­tacks in a state­ment Monday, an­noun­cing that it has offered its “full sup­port” to the Rus­si­an gov­ern­ment in se­cur­ity pre­par­a­tions for the winter games. “The United States stands in solid­ar­ity with the Rus­si­an people against ter­ror­ism,” said Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Coun­cil spokes­wo­man Caitlin Hay­den.

Thomas Bach, pres­id­ent of the In­ter­na­tion­al Olympic Com­mit­tee, said Monday he is “cer­tain that everything will be done to en­sure the se­cur­ity of the ath­letes and all the par­ti­cipants of the Olympic Games,” ac­cord­ing to the AP.

Still, the threat of more at­tacks, es­pe­cially in Vol­go­grad, has be­come real for cit­izens, spec­tat­ors, and ath­letes. “Is this the be­gin­ning of a lar­ger ter­ror­ist cam­paign lead­ing up to So­chi?” wrote a pair of home­land-se­cur­ity and coun­terter­ror­ism ex­perts for ABC News on Monday. “There should be little doubt it is.”