Several U.S. and European security officials said that
last-minute intelligence reports about possible Olympics-related
attacks have continued to flow into Western agencies and that U.S.
and European agencies take them very seriously.
"I'm more concerned now than a week ago," one U.S. official said on
Thursday. He said there are multiple militant groups who have
indicated they intend to carry out attacks during the Games. The
official and other officials spoke on condition of anonymity because
of the sensitivity of the subject.
The U.S. official added that, while security at the Olympic venues
is formidable, there are potential soft targets not far outside the
Olympic perimeter where militants might be able to attack,
attracting huge media coverage.
At a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee earlier this
week, Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism
Center said, "We think the ... greater danger from a terrorist
perspective is in potential for attacks to occur outside of the
actual venues of the games themselves in the area surrounding Sochi
or outside of Sochi in the region."
Other officials said the Russian capitol, Moscow, could be high on
militants lists' of potential targets.
In a sign of heightened concern, the U.S. Transportation Security
Administration (TSA) is temporarily banning all liquids, aerosols,
gels and powders in carry-on luggage on flights between Russia and
the United States, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official
said on Thursday.
"As always, our security posture, which at all times includes a
number of measures both seen and unseen, will continue to respond
and appropriately adapt to protect the American people from an ever
evolving threat picture," the official said.
Delta Airlines posted a statement on its website saying that
Russia-bound passengers would still be able to place liquids, gels,
aerosols and powders in checked baggage. However, passengers headed
to Russia will be required to check in personally with a Delta agent
at the airport and will not be able to use automatic or online
Some U.S. officials on Thursday played down the significance of a
disclosure that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had warned
airlines to be on guard for toothpaste containers that could contain
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Officials confirmed the warning had been issued. But several
officials said that it was based on intelligence that was collected
some time ago and that little, if any, new information had surfaced
to confirm that any toothpaste plot related to Sochi was in
Sill, U.S. and European security officials said multiple militant
elements pose significant and current Olympic-related threats.
The main threat, said both European and U.S. officials, is posed by
the Caucasus-based Imarat Kavkaz movement, which has attacked a
Moscow airport and the capital's subway system. Officials said they
could not confirm rumors that the group's leader, Doku Umarov, who
last July called on his followers to disrupt the Olympics, had been
Even if Umarov is dead, security officials believe the group is
decentralized and its commanders are sufficiently autonomous to
carry out attacks on their own.
Some officials said that attacks could also be attempted by "lone
wolf" militants or returnees who had been fighting with militant
factions in Syria. But such attacks are thought less likely.
Laith Alkhouri of Flashpoint Partners, a private firm which monitors
militant websites for government and private customers, noted that
militants have had "months and months to plan" Olympic-related
"Although the Russian government was also preparing for the games
all this time, many of its security measures were ad hoc and
reactionary, which might be a point of weakness in their security
design," he said.
Alkhouri also said Russian security forces had recently stepped up
their operations in the Caucasus, most notably in Dagestan, a
militant hotbed. He added, however, that "the Caucasus militants are
security-cautious, tech-savvy, highly motivated, and cannot be
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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