All Rights Reserved
Amid the latest concern that a female suicide bomber might have made it past the ring of security for the Sochi Olympics, three experts in security and terrorism called the strength of the terrorist threats aimed at disrupting the Games "unprecedented."
"This is the only Games in history where there's been an announced credible threat well before the Games, and since that threat was made last July there's been at least three terrorist incidents that have demonstrated their capability of carrying out that threat. So I think it's very, very real," said Bill Rathburn, who began his long involvement with Olympic security in 1979, when he began coordinating the Los Angeles Police Department's security operations for the 1984 Summer Games.
According to Brian Michael Jenkins, the senior adviser to the president of the RAND Corp. and a longtime expert on the topic, the intensity of the threat is unprecedented because of the volatility of the region. "It's being held in an arena of two wars with active continuing terrorist campaigns," Jenkins said.
For generations, the area has been the center of ethnic and religious strife between Islamic peoples and Russian forces. Last summer the leader of the militant group Caucasus Emirate urged Islamic separatists to use force to disrupt the Olympics, which he described as "satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors." That group claimed responsibility Sunday for bombings in Volgograd that killed 34 people.
NBC News reported Monday that Russian security services might be looking for as many as four "black widows" dispatched to disrupt the Olympics. A suspected terrorist is believed to be a young widow of an Islamic militant killed by Russian forces.
Also Monday, the Pentagon said it had offered the Russian government air and naval assets, including two Navy ships, to aid security preparations.
Though the threat is real, and unprecedented, the experts said the Games themselves might not be the primary target.
"It would not surprise me if the Caucasus Emirate feint toward Sochi and then blow something up in Moscow," said Christopher Swift, a Georgetown University professor who has studied militant groups in the North Caucasus.
Though one congressman said he wouldn't send his family to Sochi, Jenkins said he wouldn't hesitate. When friends ask him for advice when traveling to dangerous places, Jenkins tells them to drive carefully to the airport, considering the odds of being a victim of a terrorist attack almost reach winning-the-lottery proportions. "That said, if it's going to be a source of anxiety, maybe it's wise not to go," he said.