Russian Islamic video threatens Sochi Olympics

AP, AFP-JIJI

An Islamic militant group in Russia’s North Caucasus claimed responsibility Sunday for twin suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd last month and posted a video threatening to strike the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

There had been no previous claim of responsibility for the bombings, which killed 34 people and heightened security fears before next month’s Winter Games.

In the video, two Russian-speaking men warned President Vladimir Putin that “If you hold these Olympics, we will give you a present for the innocent Muslim blood being spilled all around the world: In Afghanistan, in Somalia, in Syria.”

They added that “for the tourists who come, there will be a present, too.”

In a statement posted with the video on its website, the militant group Vilayat Dagestan claimed responsibility for the Volgograd bombings.

The video claims that the two men, identified as Suleiman and Abdurakhman, were the suicide bombers and purports to show the explosives being prepared and strapped to their bodies.

There was no immediate reaction to the video from the Russian security services.

During much of the 49-minute video, the two men speak to the camera while holding Kalashnikov automatic rifles. Behind them hang black banners with Arabic religious phrases similar to those used by al-Qaida.

Vilayat Dagestan is one of the groups that make up the so-called Caucasus Emirate, which seeks to establish an independent Islamic state in the North Caucasus, a region just to the east of Sochi on Russia’s southern border.

Dagestan, one of several predominantly Muslim republics in the North Caucasus, has become the center of the Islamic insurgency that has spread throughout the region following separatist wars in neighboring Chechnya.

In response to the terrorist threat, Russia has introduced sweeping security measures for the Sochi Games.

The Chechen leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Doku Umarov, had ordered a halt to attacks on civilian targets in 2012, but he rescinded that order in July and urged his followers to try to undermine the Olympics.

The Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya claimed last week that Umarov was dead, but the claim couldn’t be verified.

The Vilayat Dagestan statement said the Volgograd attacks were carried out in part because of Umarov’s order, but didn’t specifically say he had ordered them.

The threat increased worries by U.S. lawmakers worried about possible attacks at the games.

“The threats are real. They are basically calling for attacks on the Olympics. I think you’re going to see attempts to do that,” said Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

The Republican, in an interview from Moscow with ABC’s “This Week,” said Russian authorities were taking the threats seriously, deploying 100,000 security officials to erect a “ring of steel” to secure the Sochi airport, mountain trains and the games themselves.

If there were attacks, he said, they would more likely be directed at soft targets like transportation.

The congressman added that the diplomatic security corps said it was getting good cooperation from the Russians, and noted that two dozen FBI agents were assigned to the massive sports event.

But “it could be a lot better. I want to press that while here,” he added, saying he wanted to know more about emergency evacuation planning.

Another key congressman, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, said Russian authorities were clearly concerned about security.

“But we don’t seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the games,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Rogers, also a Republican, said the Russians’ unwillingness to share information with U.S. intelligence was “a departure of cooperation that is very concerning to me.”

“So what we’re finding is they aren’t giving us the full story about what are the threat streams, who do we need to worry about,” the lawmaker said.

“Are the terrorist groups who have had some success, are they still plotting?”

“There’s a missing gap and you never want that when you’re going into something, I think, as important as the Olympic Games,” he added.