Russian security services were pulling out all the stops Tuesday, Jan. 21 in the hunt for the suspected Islamist bomber Ruzana Ibragimova, 22, known also as Salima or the White Widow, who was last seen on a street in Sochi ahead of the Feb. 7-23 Winter Olympic Games.
According to some Russian security sources, they are looking not for one but for three female suicide bombers, all known as “Black Widows,” who are used by terrorists because female bombers blend in with their targets more easily than males.
The United States military has offered to make available air and naval assets, including two ships in the Black Sea, to support Russia’s efforts to foil the plans of armed Islamist groups from just over the Caucasian mountains to disrupt the Games. American warships and planes will be on standby to evacuate citizens from Sochi in the event of a major terrorist attack.
This US-Russian counter-terror collaboration is unprecedented. After the bombings at last year’s Boston Marathon by Caucasian Islamists, the counterterrorism agencies of the two governments agreed to work together against the common Islamist terror threat, especially for protecting large-scale sporting events which are hard to secure.
US forces are also working with Russian security units within a vast 2,400-kilometer security zone thrown up around the sporting sites of Sochi. This “ring of steel” is manned by 40,000 Russian police and security personnel and is the broadest security area ever provided for an Olympic event.
However, some malefactors may have already taken up forward positions inside the ring – like “Salima.”
The statistics on incidents debkafile’s counterterrorism sources have compiled for December, 2013 are not reassuring, in view their frequency and the preponderance of civilians and security officers killed compared with the terrorists.
Security forces clashed with terrorists in 11 local firefights.
Shooting attacks accounted for the deaths of 10 Russian officials and security officers and 19 civilians. Fifteen terrorists were killed in security forces' raids and clashes.
Altogether 14 explosive devices were disarmed in time.
The death toll shot up to 79 with the suicide bombings in Volgograd at the end of December which killed 34 people.
Then, on Jan. 8, six bodies shot in the head were found in parked cars in Stavropol, a town 300 km east of Sochi. Bomb traps surrounding the four vehicles holding the bodies exploded as security officers approached, but their caution saved them from harm.
This incident was treated by Russia’s Counter-terror operations regime as a warning of the violence awaiting the Games. All the divisions responsible for ensuring the safety of guests and participants were put on combat alert.
Last month, International Olympic Committee members consulted Western and Middle Eastern terror experts for an independent, professional assessment of the risks the Sochi games faced of exposure to terrorist action.
Their assessments came in three parts:
1) The armed attacks thus far may be the first shots of a comprehensive Caucasian al Qaeda-related campaign of terror against Russian cities still to come.
2) Whereas the town of Sochi is fairly secure in view of the tight security ring enclosing it, transport routes between the town and the sporting events in the mountains are not sufficiently protected against terrorist attack. This is not due to Russian incompetence, but the great distances the sportsmen must travel between their lodgings and hotels in the town of Sochi and the sporting facilities. Bus and train routes wind through valleys and mountains which are extremely difficult to safeguard.
3) The experts reckon that the sportsmen and women taking part in the Games face the greatest threat, because the long snow-covered slopes on which they perform are exposed. Indigenous Caucasian terrorists are practiced in moving around at great speed on snow-clad slopes and are very hard to locate – even from the air.