The Winter Olympics in Sochi will take place in a region rife with terrorist activity, amid the potential for more attacks.
A report completed by the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups (ISVG) at UNH found that the Sochi region in the Black Sea area of Russia has endured more than 1,560 violent events in the last three years. Nearly 3,500 people have died.
“The majority of these attacks have occurred within 500 miles of the site of the Olympic Games,” said Rob Berntsson, a research analyst at ISVG who earned a master’s degree from the national security program in the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences.
Most of the attacks have targeted law enforcement personnel and civilians.
“While the number of attacks per quarter has decreased over the last two and a half years,” Berntsson said, “the high level of violence that has occurred within 500 miles of Sochi poses a great threat to the safety and security of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.”
Sochi, a city in Krasnodar Krai, Russia, is close to the border between Georgia/Abkhazia and Russia. It is located near the Caucasus Mountains and is Russia's largest resort city. Sochi will host the XXII Olympic Winter Games and the XI Paralympic Winter Games in 2014, and it is one of the host cities for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
In its 117-year history, the Olympics have been the target of two violent attacks: the 1972 hostage taking in Munich in 1972 and a bombing in Atlanta in 1996, Berntsson said. The 2014 games already have been the target of terrorist threats. Doku Umarov, emir of the Caucasus Emirate, has directly targeted the games, which he described as “satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors,” Berntsson noted.
“The Caucasus Emirate, a terrorist organization that conducts near daily attacks through the Russian North Caucasus, has proven its ability to carry out high-profile terrorist attacks in areas outside the Caucasus,” he said. The group has claimed responsibility for several terrorist incidents throughout Russia.”
Russia is taking the threat seriously. In May 2012, the Russian Federal Security Service arrested three Caucasus Emirate rebels and seized a large number of weapons – including surface-to-air missiles, TNT and grenade launchers – that the ISVG believes were intended to be used during a terrorist attack at the games.
Russia also is taking a number of steps to ensure the safety and security of the Sochi Games, Berntsson said. The Russian government plans to deploy 37,000 police officers to Sochi and use drones, high-speed boat patrols and explosive-seeking robotic vehicles to provide security at the Olympic site.
Even so, Berntsson said, the games, “viewed by many as a pet project for Russian President Vladimir Putin, provide an international platform for the Caucasus Emirate to demonstrate its strength.”