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Update: 2014 Winter Olympics – The Terrorism Threat

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Bottom Line Up Front

The logo of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games [8]The logo of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games [8]

The Olympic Games, since their inception, have been a gathering place for athletes and spectators alike to safely enjoy the international sports competition. However, the huge number of individuals expected to arrive in Sochi for the duration of the games creates an attractive target for extremist organizations looking for an opportunity to capture the attention of the international community through violence. In the 117 year history of the modern Olympics, there have been only two violent attacks: the 1972 hostage taking in Munich, and the 1996 bombing in Atlanta. The upcoming Sochi Winter Games will be located within 300 miles of Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia, an area within the North Caucasus that has experienced ongoing violence from separatist and Islamic fundamentalist organizations since the Chechen independence movement began during the 1990s. Recently, Doku Umarov, Emir of the Caucasus Emirate, made threats directly targeting the Winter Olympics. The Caucasus Emirate is a designated terrorist organization according to the U.S. State Department, Russian Supreme Court, and the United Nations due to its claims of responsibility for violent attacks and extremist ideology. [1][2] Umarov himself is a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224. [1] Though the Caucasus Emirate began as a Chechen separatist movement, the organization has gradually developed into a radical Islamist organization with an ideology similar to al Qaeda and its affiliates. [2] The capabilities of these groups and proximity of their known areas of operation creates a substantial threat to the Olympic Games and the subsequent influx of athletes and spectators in the region. On July 3, 2013, Doku Umarov released a video statement urging Islamic militants to “‘do their utmost to derail’ the (Sochi Olympic) games… ‘We have an obligation to use all means to prevent this.’” [3]

A Photo of Doku Umarov taken from a video statement released in early July 2013A Photo of Doku Umarov taken from a video statement released in early July 2013 [9]

The Caucasus Emirate, a terrorist organization that conducts near daily attacks throughout the Russian North Caucasus; has proven their ability to carry out high profile terrorist attacks in areas outside the Caucasus, having claimed responsibility for several terrorist incidents throughout Russia. [3] The most notable attacks include, the November 2009 training bombing that killed 26, the March 2010 suicide bombing by two females on Moscow’s Metro, and the January 2011 suicide bombing of the Moscow airport. [4] Umarov has previously described the games as “satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors,” in reference to the location of Sochi, which sits on land depopulated of Muslim Circassian tribes during the Russian invasion of the Caucasus in the 1800s. [3][5]
The video provides the most specific threat to the games so far; contradicting orders issued previously, which urged fighters under his command to avoid targeting civilians, and to avoid carrying out attacks outside the Caucasus. [3][5] Sochi is located in Krasnodar-Krai, which is not considered part of the Caucasus, due to its Russian ethnic majority. The Olympic Games in Sochi, viewed by many as a pet project for Russian President Vladimir Putin, provides an international platform for the Caucasus Emirate to demonstrate its strength, and further its efforts of creating an Islamic caliphate in the Caucasus.
The Russian Federation has experienced three significant terrorist attacks since Umarov’s July 2013 statement. On October 21, 2013, a suicide bomb was detonated on a transit bus in Volgograd, Volgograd Oblast, Russian Federation; approximately 600 miles from Sochi. [6] The explosion killed six passengers and injured an additional 30, and also resulted in the death of the bomber, Naida Asiyalova, a female native of Russia’s Republic of Dagestan. [6] Asiyalova was linked to a militant group operating in Dagestan, and is believed to have been the wife of a Dagestani militant leader. [6] Volgograd’s transportation infrastructure was targeted a second time on December 29, 2013, when a second suicide bomber detonated an explosive device inside a major railway station. [7] The blast killed 17 individuals inside the station, and wounded at least 44 persons. [7] Initial reports from those who survived the explosion indicate that the suicide bomber was possibly a female named Oksana Aslanova, a friend of Naida Asiyalova, however this conclusion was later called into question when a male finger was found attached to a grenade pin in the debris. [7] Another Volgograd transit bus was targeted just a few hours later on December 30, 2013, when yet another suicide bombing claimed 15 lives and injured 41 other passengers. [8] The remains of the bomber, believed to be a male, have been sent to a laboratory for genetic testing while authorities continue to search for additional evidence to establish their identity. [9]
 

 

Map of the CaucasusMap of the Caucasus

 
 

Foiled Terror Plot

In May 2012, Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) personnel arrested three Caucasus Emirate rebels and seized a large number of weapons including surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), TNT, and grenade launchers. The FSB was able to establish that members of Caucasus Emirate were planning on transporting the weapons to Sochi in order to conduct a terrorist attack during the Olympic Games in February. The detained militants claimed that the plot had been created by Umarov. A statement released by the Russian anti-terror committee alleged, “Umarov, while maintaining close contacts with the Georgian special services, coordinated all activities to organize the delivery of materials to carry out acts of terror.” [4]
The raid occurred in Abkhazia, the border of which is approximately 10 miles from Sochi. [4] Abkhazia, considered by Georgia to be a “breakaway region,” declared independence in 1999. Originally part of Georgia when the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the Abkhaz people revolted and drove Georgian soldiers out of the territory during an armed conflict that occurred throughout 1992 and 1993. Russia was the first country to formally recognize Abkhazia’s independence, and utilized the Abkhaz-Georgian border to invade Georgia proper in 2008 during the conflict between the two nations over South Ossetia. Since that time Russia has maintained a strong military presence along the Abkhaz-Georgian border with permission of the Abkhaz government. [5]

Aftermath of the December 30th suicide bombing, Volgograd, Russia [8]Aftermath of the December 30th suicide bombing, Volgograd, Russia [8]

Doku Umarov: “Russia’s Bin Laden”

Doku Umarov, the current leader of the Caucasus Emirate is considered to be the most wanted man in the Russian Federation, and has been ominously referred to as “Russia’s Osama Bin Laden.” [12] Umarov is a 49-year-old Chechen and career militant who was born in the village of Kharsenoi in southern Chechnya. [12][13] Umarov was born into a well-educated family, and he graduated from Oil Institute of Grozny after studying construction engineering. [13] Umarov began his militant career in 1994 at the beginning of the first Russian-Chechen conflict, joining the Chechen separatist fighters out of a sense of patriotic duty to his home, according to interviews. [13] Umarov quickly advanced through the ranks of the Chechen militant groups, serving in many roles including command of a “special operations battalion,” later becoming the head of the Chechen Security Council in 1997. [14] Umarov served as a military commanded from 1999-2000 during the second Russian-Chechen conflict, becoming the commander of the 1,000-strong rebel group known as the Southwestern Front, an organization believed to be responsible for multiple militant attacks in the Caucasus resulting in 380 deaths. [14] In 2007, Umarov became President of Ichkeria, the unrecognized separatist government in Chechnya at the time. [14] Umarov adopted a radical Islamist ideology when he was recognized as the leader of the Caucasus Emirate in 2007, a new militant organization dedicated to winning independence for the Caucasus region and implementing an Islamic state governed by Shari’a law. [14][15] As leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Umarov recreated a previously active suicide group called the Riyadus-Salikhin (“Garden of Martyrs”) and began to orchestrate high profile attacks inside the Russian Federation. [14]

Russian Efforts to Secure the Games

Security forces in Sochi inspect a bus entering the Olympic Park for explosives. [10]Security forces in Sochi inspect a bus entering the Olympic Park for explosives. [10]

Russia has taken a number of steps to ensure the safety and security of the Sochi Games. On July 5, 2013, Russia announced that 37,000 police officer will be deployed to Sochi. [16] Additionally, Russia has announced that drones, high-speed boat patrols, and explosive-seeking robotic vehicles will be used to provide continuous security of the Olympic site. In an effort to prevent “lone wolf” terrorist attacks, the Sochi games will employ a “spectator pass.” The pass will require individuals to disclose personal background information to the Russian government such as passport details and biographical information. The pass will be required for entry into the Olympic park. [17] Additionally, the FSB will be monitoring electronic communication including phone calls and email. [18] Anticipating the security risk for travelers arriving in the country by air, Russian transportation authorities have banned all liquids from carry-on luggage throughout the country. [19] Travel restrictions have also been implemented for land vehicles which will be banned from downtown Sochi completely for the duration of the games, with the exception of specially tagged government vehicles. [20] The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has also dispatched several dozen agents to the region to assist Russian security personnel and protect American citizens and athletes. [21] Despite Russian efforts to strengthen security, the U.S. Department of State issued a “Travel Alert” on January 10, 2014 warning American travelers to the region that Olympic Games are an attractive target for terrorists, and that American citizens should be mindful of their personal safety and surroundings. [22]

Analysis of Threats in the Region

Umarov’s long militant career, as well as his proven capability to carry out high profile attacks, gives credibility to his threats against the Olympic Games. According to the ISVG database, there have been 2,070 violent events throughout the Caucasus region, resulting in 4,986 casualties since January 1, 2010. These attacks predominantly take place in the North Caucasus, within the borders of Russia. The majority of attacks have occurred within 500 miles of the Olympic Games; Dagestan (1007), Ingushetia (329), Karbardino-Balkaria (313), and Chechnya (203) have all experienced a large number of violent events.

The above heat map illustrates the location of violent events throughout the Caucasus.The above heat map illustrates the location of violent events throughout the Caucasus.

 

 
The most violent attack type has been bombings, resulting in 2,791 casualties in 830 events, an average of 3.36 casualties per event. Armed assaults resulted in 2,186 casualties in 1,142 events, an average of 1.91 casualties per event. While all of the events collected for this report were conducted by militants, only a small number of attacks are actually claimed by terrorist organizations. Unidentified or unaffiliated militants, referred to as NVF (Незаконные вооружённые формирования, Russian, or Nezakonnye Vooružënnye Formirovanija, Latin) translates to mean “Illegal Armed Group,” and was responsible for 1,995 violent events. Various Chechen rebel groups, including the Caucasus Emirate, were responsible for 46 events. Law enforcement officials are the most common targets of attacks, having been targeted in 2,467 violent events. While the number of attacks per quarter has decreased over the last two and a half years the high level of violence that has occurred within 500 miles of Sochi poses the greatest threat to the safety and security of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

Below is an interactive Tableau dashboard illustrating violent events throughout the Caucasus from January 01, 2010 to January 31, 2014. We invite you to utilize interactive features by clicking on data-points throughout the visualization below. When you select a data-point all graphs will automatically update to reflect accurate data pertinent to your selection. For example, if you were to click on “Caucasus Emirate” the remaining fields would update to show data specifically pertaining to that group. Graphs can be reset by clicking in the white space of the graph where you made your selection.

The Institute for the Study of Violent Groups (ISVG) is a federally funded institute based at the University of New Haven. For more information on Chechen rebel groups, please visit the ISVG Violent Extremism Knowledge Base VKB at www.isvg.org or email info@isvg.org
 

 

 

Sources

1. U.S. Department of State. (2011, May 26). Designation of Caucasus Emirate. Retrieved from U.S. Department of State: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2011/05/164312.htm [1]

2. Stanford University. (2012, August 9). Caucasus Emirate. Retrieved from Mapping Militant Organizations: http://www.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/255 [2]

3. USA Today. (2013, July 2). Chechen rebel calls for attacks on Sochi Games. Retrieved from USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2013/07/03/chechen-rebel-calls-for-attacks-on-sochi-games/2486349/ [3]

4. BBC. (2011, March 30). Profile: Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov. Retrieved from BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12269155 [4]

5. Bayliss, S., Butler, S., Klaczynski, M., Williams, A., Yip, I., Lui, J., & Lee, M. (2004, February 1). Political, Social and Economic Aspects of the Olympic Games. Retrieved from Political, Social and Economic Aspects of the Olympic Games: http://olympics.pthimon.co.uk/OlympicsReport.pdf [5]

6. RT. (2013, October 22). Terrorist blast kills 6, injures over 30 in Volgograd, central Russia. Retrieved from RT: http://rt.com/news/volgograd-bus-explosion-dead-486/ [6]

7. RT. (2013, December 30). Suicide bombing kills at least 17 in Russia’s Volgograd (VIDEO). Retrieved from RT: http://rt.com/news/volgograd-blast-victims-russia-937/ [7]

8. RT. (2013, December 31). Consecutive Volgograd suicide bombing kills at least 15 (PHOTOS, GRAPHIC VIDEO). Retrieved from RT: http://rt.com/news/russia-volgograd-trolley-blast-957/ [8]

9. BBC. (2013, December 30). Volgograd blasts: Second suicide bomb hits Russia city. Retrieved from BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25546477 [9]

10. Elder, M. (2012, May 10). Russia ‘foils Islamist plot to attack Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics’. Retrieved from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/may/10/russia-plot-sochi-winter-olympics [10]

11. BBC. (2013, November 12). Abkhazia profile. Retrieved from BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18175030 [11]

12. Verkaik, R. (2014, January 4). Terror chief dubbed Russia’s Osama Bin Laden ‘will target Britons at Olympics’. Retrieved from MailOnline: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2533830/Terror-chief-dubbed-Russias-Osama-Bin-Laden-target-Britons-Olympics.html [12]

13. Fuller, L. (2010, April 1). News Profile: Who Is Doku Umarov? Retrieved from Radio Free Europe: Radio Liberty: http://www.rferl.org/content/News_Profile_Who_Is_Doku_Umarov/1999886.html [13]

14. The Moscow Times. (2014, January 10). The Moscow Times. Retrieved from Doku Umarov: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/mt_profile/doku_umarov/433798.html [14]

15. Gillespie, B. (2010, March 30). The avenging Black Widows. Retrieved from CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/the-avenging-black-widows-1.866287 [15]

16. USA Today. (2013, July 5). 37,000 police to secure Sochi Games. Retrieved from USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2013/07/05/37000-police-to-secure-sochi-games/2492391/ [16]

17. Sharwood, A. (2013, June 15). Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics organisers employing unprecedented security measures. Retrieved from Courier Mail: http://www.couriermail.com.au/sport/more-sports/olympics-facing-boston-style-attacks-unprecedented-security-at-sochi-2014-winter-olympics/story-fnii0hmo-1226663740932 [17]

18. The Telegraph. (2014, January 7). Russia launches Sochi clampdown a month before Winter Olympic Games. Retrieved from The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/10555033/Russia-launches-Sochi-clampdown-a-month-before-Winter-Olympic-Games.html [18]

19. RIA Novosti. (2014, January 8). Russian Airports Ban Liquids in Carry-On Bags Ahead of Olympics. Retrieved from RIA Novosti: http://en.ria.ru/russia/20140108/186346659/Russian-Airports-Ban-Liquids-in-Carry-On-Bags-Ahead-of-Olympics.html [19]

20. RIA Novosti. (2014, January 7). Sochi Olympic Security Measures: No Strange Cars. Retrieved from RIA Novosti: http://en.ria.ru/sochi2014/20140107/186317143/Sochi-Olympic-Security-Measures-No-Strange-Cars.html [20]

21. RIA Novosti. (2014, January 10). FBI Sends Dozens of Agents to Help Guard Sochi Olympics. Retrieved from RIA Novosti: http://en.ria.ru/sochi2014/20140110/186391282/FBI-Sends-Dozens-of-Agents-to-Help-Guard-Sochi-Olympics.html [21]

22. U.S. Department of State. (2014, January 10). Travel Alert: Russian Federation. Retrieved from Travel.State.Gov: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/pa/pa_6258.html [22]

mgray@isvg.org

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