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Winter Olympics Possible Terrorist Target, ISVG Research Warns

Release Date:
9/4/2013 9:00 PM

Sept. 4, 2013

Winter Olympics 2013, features

WEST HAVEN, CONN. – 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 the University of New Haven, 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, 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 at UNH. 

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 XI Paralympic Winter Games in 2014, and it is also 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 have already 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 and further its efforts of creating an Islamic caliphate in the Caucasus.”

The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 on the campus of Yale University in cooperation with Northeastern University, UNH moved to its current West Haven campus in 1960. The University operates a satellite campus in Tuscany, Italy, and offers programs at several locations throughout Connecticut and in New Mexico and California. UNH provides its students with a unique combination of a solid liberal arts education and real-world, hands-on career and research opportunities. The University enrolls approximately 6,400 students, including nearly 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates – the majority of whom reside in University housing. Through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, Tagliatela College of Engineering, and College of Lifelong & eLearning, UNH offers 75 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. UNH students have access to more than 50 study abroad programs worldwide and its student-athletes compete in 16 varsity sports in the NCAA Division II’s highly competitive Northeast-10 Conference.