European Olympic Committees receive threats ahead of Sochi

Russia searches town for potential suspects as US offers help in efforts to bolster security

Photos of wanted and suspected armed group members in a department store in Sochi, Russia.
Nina Zotina/AFP/Getty Images

The Olympic committees of a handful of European nations said Wednesday that they had received messages threatening armed attacks at the upcoming Sochi Olympics in February.

Committees in Germany, Hungary, Slovenia and Italy were among those that received the messages — sent via ground mail and email — that contained what they called "terrorist threats."

The Sochi Winter Olympics will commence early next month, and some have expressed concerns that amid threats of armed attacks and Russia's recently passed anti-gay legislation, attendance at the international sporting event will take a major hit. Analysts have expressed the opinion that Russia stands to lose out in its $51 billion bid to showcase its soft power.

The Olympic committees said Wednesday that the messages, written in Russian and English, threatened their athletes with attacks at the Winter Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed there was a message but downplayed the severity of it.

Bence Szabo, secretary-general of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, told the daily Nemzeti Sport that the message he received urged the Hungarian team to stay away from the games. Committee President Zsolt Borkai told the state news wire MTI that other countries' Olympic committees had received similar messages and that the IOC, Sochi organizers and Hungarian security forces had been informed.

The IOC repeated its stance that it "takes security very seriously."

"(We will) pass on any credible information to the relevant security services," the IOC said in a statement. "However, in this case it seems like the email sent to the Hungarian Olympic Committee contains no threat and appears to be a random message from a member of the public."

A spokeswoman for Switzerland's Olympic committee said such threats were "normal" so close to the games and that athletes and officials would base their travel plans on the assessment of security and diplomatic officials.

"This is kind of an everyday mail. This is normal before every Olympics," Martina Gasner told The Associated Press by telephone. "We work with the federal offices for police and foreign relations. If they say you can go to Sochi, we will go, and if one day they will say it is too dangerous and we command you not to go, then we will change our plans." 

An accord on safety

In a Tuesday phone call, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama discussed how best to have a "safe and secure" Winter Olympics, the White House said.

In Sochi, poised to host hundreds of thousands of visitors during the games, security forces have been searching for Ruzanna Ibragimovaya, 23, who is reported to have arrived in the Olympic host city on Jan. 11 or 12, a letter seen by Reuters said.

"(She) may be used as a terrorist-suicide bomber by (insurgency) leaders to organize terrorist acts during preparations for and during the 2014 Winter Olympics," read the letter from Russia's Federal Security Services, asking police to look immediately into the matter.

The letter to local police said she was the widow of a slain member of an Islamist armed group and is believed to have recently left her home in Dagestan, which lies nearly 370 miles from Sochi on the opposite end of Russia's predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region.

Dagestan has become the focal point of an insurgency rooted in two separatist wars in neighboring Chechnya.

Putin and Obama talked about how to advance shared U.S.-Russian interests, "including a safe and secure Sochi Olympics, for which the United States has offered its full assistance," according to a White House statement.

The U.S. military is making two ships in the Black Sea available, should American support be required during the Olympics. Washington has also offered technology used to thwart roadside bombs to boost security during the Olympics, a spokesman for U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey said.

In a video published on Monday, two men believed to have participated in twin suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd last month warned Putin to expect more attacks if the games go ahead in Sochi.

The attacks in Volgograd killed at least 34 people and raised security fears before the Olympics.

In October, a female suicide bomber struck a city bus in Volgograd, killing six people and injuring about 30.

After the October incident, Russian authorities said they had started taking saliva samples from religiously conservative women in the area to identify them if they became suicide bombers.  

Al Jazeera and wire services

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter