With two weeks to go before the opening of the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, terrorist threats have many questioning the security of the games. The Foundry asked Heritage’s expert on the region, Ariel Cohen, for some perspective on the threats.
Where are the terrorist threats to the Olympics coming from?
Most of the terrorists are homegrown. These are Islamists fighting what they call a jihad – a “holy war” in the North Caucasus. That territory has been occupied by Russia since the end of the 18th century, and the conflict has continued ever since. Today, the terrorists have ties with the global radical Islamist movement. Some of them even trained and fought in Afghanistan and other hotspots.
Is Russia a hotspot for terrorist attacks?
Yes, and it has been for a while. Tens of thousands were killed in the two Chechnya wars (1994-1996 and 1999-2000). Hundreds have been murdered in terrorist attacks on buses, trains, and planes. Scores have been killed in airports and subways. Some of the largest hostage-taking operations took place in Russia. Hundreds have been taken hostage in hospitals, theaters, and schools. Russian security services are not that efficient when it comes to dedicated terrorists who are willing to risk their lives.
Why the emphasis on female suspects? Is this particular to the region?
The technique of recruiting female suicide bombers has been perfected by Islamists from Gaza to Chechnya. It is not a particularly Russian tactic. Terror masters usually take a widow, a sister, or a girlfriend of a “martyr,” isolate her and subject her to a heavy brainwashing, which may last for weeks. They convince her to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the male relation she lost and become a suicide-murderer.
Who is in charge of security at the Olympics?
The Russian government. They have committed tens of thousands of troops and security personnel. I hope there will be no attacks, but I can’t say I am very optimistic.
Is it safe for Americans to be at the Olympics?
There is a chance to get hurt anywhere you go. Car crashes, plane crashes, you name it. The Olympic Games have their own tragic history when a Palestinian terror cell massacred Israeli Olympians in Munich, Germany, in 1972. That was a big surprise. However, this is one of the less secure games in my memory as the warnings from terrorists abound.