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US authorities on Friday announced that they have been working with their Russian counterparts to coordinate security for American athletes participating in the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics.
According to FBI Director James Comey, his office has dispatched at least 20 agents to the city of Sochi, a southern city on the Black Sea coast between Georgia, Abkhazia and Russia.
The US Navy has also dispatched two warships – a command and control flagship, and a frigate – to the Black Sea for naval exercises, which could be used in the event US citizens needed to be evacuated out of Sochi.
Sochi is near to and neighbours a number of states in the volatile north Caucasus region such as North and South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan, where terrorist attacks by Islamist and/or separatists have been known to occur.
Security experts say there is concern following two suicide bomb attacks which targeted the train station and a trolleybus in the southern city of Volgograd, 500km north of Sochi.
The attackers were suicide bombers dispatched from an extremist group called Vilayat Daghestan, which says it is fighting to create an Islamic state in Dagestan.
In early January, a video allegedly made by a member of the Islamic Jihad Union, which is known to operate along the Afghanistan-Pakistani border, threatened attacks on the city of Sochi.
Imarat Kavkaz (IK), another extremist group, is also believed to have made a number of threats of violence aimed at the Sochi Olympics.
Russian authorities, however, say that they have reinforced the city and the venue for the Olympics with more than 37,000 extra police, security and military forces bringing the total number of security personnel guarding the city and international events to nearly 100,000.
Moscow says it has spent more than $2 billion to secure the Games, creating a virtual “ring of steel” – as nicknamed by media reports – which includes air defence rockets, drones, high-speed patrol boats and advanced military technology to detect bombs or improvised explosive devices.
Last week, Russian authorities released the pictures of three alleged suicide bombers, or black widows, believed to be on a mission to attack Olympic venues or the city of Sochi itself.
US President Barack Obama told CNN yesterday that he believed the Sochi Olympics would be safe, but said that there are always risks at international events; he used the example of the Boston Marathon bombing last year to highlight his point.
“The Russian authorities understand the stakes here. They understand that there are potential threats that are out there, and we are coordinating with them,” the president, who will not be attending the Winter Olympics, said during his CNN interview.
“We’ve looked at their plans. I think we have a good sense of the security that they are putting in place to protect not only the athletes themselves, but also visitors there.”
Eighty-eight countries are participating in the Sochi Olympics which will begin on February 6 and run until February 23.
Some 60 heads of state, including Norwegian King Harald V and Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima and Prime Minister Mark Rutte, among others, will attend the opening ceremonies next week.