Terrorists with a North Caucasus Islamist group are promising to carry out suicide bomb attacks at the upcoming Olympic games in Sochi next month, including chemical arms strikes.
The Russian terror group Caucasus Emirate, also known as Imarat Kavkaz, is believed to have jihadists in place within Sochi who are ready to strike during the games, set to begin Feb. 7, said U.S. officials with access to intelligence.
New threats of terror attacks on the games were made in a video released last week revealing two terrorists and a bomb-maker behind the recent suicide bombings in Volgograd, some 600 miles northwest of Sochi. The blasts killed 34 people and injured scores more.
According to the officials, the Jan. 19 video provided disinformation linking those blasts to a previously unknown group identified in the film as “Ansar al-Sunna.” Officials said the group is actually part of the Dagestani terrorist group Caucasus Emirate.
U.S. officials say the unconfirmed reports that the group’s leader Doku Umarov was killed are not expected to lessen the threat of terrorist attacks by his group on the winter games.
The group’s clandestine and decentralized structure allows it to operate despite the death or capture of its leaders, the officials said. They added that plans for attacks on Sochi probably were planned months ago.
A statement by the Caucasus Emirate posted on the official website VDagestan.com Jan. 18 was signed by the leader of a group affiliated with the Caucasus Emirate, Emir Umar, who threatened further attacks like those in Volgograd unless Russia withdraws military and security forces from the Caucasus region.
In the Jan. 18 statement, Umar also threatened to conduct chemical weapons terrorist attacks in Sochi.
Islamist terrorists have not been known to use chemical weapons in attacks, but U.S. officials are taking the threat seriously.
Another troubling sign for the Olympics was the announcement earlier this month of a fatwa, or Islamist edict, authorizing suicide attacks like those in Volgograd on civilians.
A State Department travel warning issued Jan. 10 said the Olympics, like other major public events, presents “an attractive target for terrorists.”
The warning noted Umarov’s edict rescinding an earlier ban on killing civilians and calling for attacks on Sochi during the games.
The Caucasus Emirate “has targeted civilians, as indirect supporters of the government, including through attacks on a ski resort, metro system, high-speed rail, airport, and a theater,” the notice said. “Westerners have not specifically been targeted, but are viewed by [Caucasus Emirate] as complicit in the Russian government's efforts to control the North Caucasus region.”
A senior U.S. official said the risk of a terror attack at the Olympic games is high and cautioned against travel there during the global sporting event.
“We’ve seen an uptick in threat reporting,” said a senior Obama administration who briefed reporters on security threats Friday.
The official said U.S. security officials are aware of the new threats from the Caucasus Emirate and reports of female suicide bombers in Sochi.
“We take all such threats seriously,” the official said.
As many as 10,000 Americans are expected to attend the games.
Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have sought to play down terrorist threats to the games and have promised to provide security against attacks.
However, Russian authorities are pursuing specific terrorists in Sochi who may already be in place for an attack on the games, the officials said.
Authorities in Sochi reported last week that a suspected suicide bomber was seen in Sochi near a regional Russian Foreign Ministry office and near Sochi’s city hall.
The Russian website BlogSochi reported Jan. 19 that authorities were searching for a suicide terrorist bombing named Ruzanna Ibragimova.
The website quoted an internal letter from the a regional Federal Security Service office that said Ibragimova, 22, is also known as Salima and left Dagestan around Jan. 11. “Ibragimova is the widow of a neutralized member of an underground gang, and could be employed by ringleaders of illegal armed formations as a suicide terrorist to carry out terrorist acts during the preparations and holding of the Winter Olympics 2014,” the notice stated.
The State Department designated Caucasus Emirate a terrorist group in May 2011.
According to the National Counterterrorism Center, Caucasus Emirate was founded in late 2007 by Chechen terrorist Doku Umarov, who Russian authorities say was killed in a recent counterterrorism strike, but his death has not been confirmed.
“Its stated goal is the liberation of what it considers to be Muslim lands from Moscow,” the center said in its list of terror group. “The group regularly conducts attacks against Russian security forces in the North Caucasus.”
During 2010 and 2011 the group conducted numerous suicide-bombing attacks against civilian targets in Moscow, killing dozens of people.
Sergey Markedonov, a Russian affairs expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a recent report that there are suspicions that the two Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, received training or assistance from the Caucasus Emirate, despite denials from Umarov.
“In recent years, the Caucasus Emirate has attempted to establish a presence Abkhazia to be closer to the upcoming Olympics,” Markedonov said, noting that in July Umarov called on his group to disrupt the Olympics and he renounced a ban on killing civilians.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev told CNN in a recent interview that “there are always threats" to major public events like the Olympics but that Russian authorities are prepared to counter the threats.
Officials said the group Ansar al-Sunna that claimed the Volgograd attacks are not linked to an Iraqi terror group with a similar name. However, a flag shown in the Jan. 19 video by the Volgograd bomber included a flag of the al Qaeda rebel group in Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, whose coalition include North Caucasus jihadists.