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Is woman on Sochi Winter Olympics attack mission?

Amanda Fisher / 8 February 2014

Any terrorist attack that happens during the Sochi Winter Olympic Games is likely to be at the hands of a female suicide bomber from a radical Islamic part of Russia.

Russian security forces shake hands with a Cossack as they patrol the streets of the Rosa Khutor ski resort in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. — AP

Anna Gimborn, the Eastern Europe regional information manager at leading global medical and security assistance company International SOS, said the most recent large-scale terrorist attacks have been carried out largely by Islamist militant groups from the most dangerous republic in Russia, Dagestan.

Despite recent alerts issued that terrorists may seek to hide explosives in toothpaste tubes on planes, Gimborn said the method mostly likely to be used would be one tried and tested.

“By purely looking at previous patterns, any potential future attack is likely to be a suicide bombing perpetrated more likely than not by a female attacker hailing from Dagestan.”

Russia is no stranger to conflict, with an ongoing battle with various breakaway states, but the current tension has arisen as a result of different Islamist groups living in the diverse Dagestan, with some campaigning for the introduction of Sharia law. Many in the region want the North Caucasus, the wider area which contains the region of Dagestan, to secede from Russia.

“The primary source of the terrorism threat in Russia originates from the North Caucasus region of Dagestan. Over the past decade Dagestan has become the most dangerous republic in Russia with Islamist militant groups staging attacks on a near daily basis. Dagestan is the epicenter of the insurgency, in terms of recruitment, radicalisation and theatre of operations,” Gimborn said.

However, there were increasing numbers of ethnic Russians from other parts of the country who were also converting to Islam and “becoming radicalised in Dagestan”.

Pulling off a terrorist attack at the world’s most watched event, with 3 billion people expected to tune into the Sochi Olympics, would be a major coup for the affiliated Islamists.

“The primary goal of the Islamist militant campaign is to expel Russia from the North Caucasus and therefore its campaign has primarily been directed against the Russian state, but also against Russian civilians. Attacking one of the Russian state’s most important multibillion dollar prestige projects would be a major success for them.”

Previous precedents of terrorist attacks at an Olympic Games include the 1972 Summer Games in Munich when 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage by Palestinian militants and eventually killed, and the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta where a pipe bomb detonated by anti-government protestor Eric Rudolph killed two and injured 111.

US bans gels on flights to Russia

WASHINGTON — The US Transportation Security Administration is temporarily banning carry-on liquids, aerosols, gels and powders on flights between Russia and the United States, a Department of Homeland Security official said on Thursday.

The items can be packed in checked luggage, said the official with the department, the TSA’s parent agency. ABC originally reported the ban. The United States issued a warning on Wednesday to airports and to some airlines flying to Russia for the Olympics to watch for toothpaste tubes that could hold ingredients to make a bomb on board a plane.

Russian forces are on high alert to head off possible militant attacks at the Winter Olympic Games, which begin on Friday in Sochi. “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,” said the DHS official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The safety measures include temporarily restricting some items, the official said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview with NBC News on Thursday that he was not aware of any specific threats tied to the Sochi games.

Kerry added that he would be comfortable if one of his daughters was flying to Russia to attend the Olympics. “As I said, if an American wants to go, including my daughter, I’d say go,” Kerry said.

A statement on Delta Air Lines Inc’s website said prescription medicine would be allowed under the TSA directive.  — Reuters

However, Gimborn said the majority of games had passed without incident.

In spite of the risks, the security detail has reached epic proportions inside Sochi, which is located 400 miles from Volgograd, where two terrorist bombings on a train and a trolleybus killed more than 30 people within two days last December.

“An attack in Sochi can never be entirely ruled out but, having said that, the level of security operations put in place for this event is unprecedented. Forty thousand security personnel have been deployed to secure this event and these measures are likely to mitigate such threats.”

The public transport systems, infrastructure and Games venues were potential targets, though nearby cities may make easier hits. “Securing public infrastructure is very difficult to do nationwide especially in a country where the rail network is so massive. In many regional cities the security measures in place at railway stations for example are inadequate thus making them vulnerable.”

If an attack proved successful in Sochi at a high profile event like the opening or closing ceremony, it would show the weaknesses of Russia’s security system, she said.

International SOS has staff on the ground providing travel security and medical assistance for team members, but had general advice for those looking to travel to the games.

That included maintaining vigilance while using public transport, traveling with someone who speaks Russian, using cash in order to avoid credit card fraud, avoiding homosexual displays of affection, and preparing for traffic congestion of two hours or more. They also warn medical facilities are sub-standard and most doctors do not speak English, traffic accidents are high, and anyone who belongs to an ethnic minority should avoid walking alone or after dark.

 — amanda@khaleejtimes.com

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