MSA Intel

MapOver one million people are expected to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics in
Sochi, Russia from February 6 through February 23.  The Coastal Cluster, or Sochi Olympic Park, consists of 14 venues with the capacity to hold a combined 82,000 spectators. Terrorist attacks at sporting events are not uncommon.  Internationally, there were 168 terrorist attempts at such events between 1971 and 2003, including the 1972 Munich Olympics attack and the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Olympic Games.



      • Analysts believe terrorist groups in the North Caucuses have international connections and support.
      • The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning to all US citizens planning on traveling to the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. Citizens are advised to “remain vigilant and exercise good judgment and discretion when using any form of public transportation” as well as urged to consider purchasing private medical evacuation and/or repatriation insurance.
      • The upcoming Winter Olympics are located within 300 miles of the Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia areas within the North Caucuses. There have been 1,560 violent events resulting in 3,449 casualties in the region since January 1, 2010.
      • The chances of a terrorist attack outside of the Sochi region will be elevated during the games. Due to media attention, even a low profile attack may be portrayed as a victory by radical groups or individuals.
      • A coordinated large-scale attack, though unlikely, remains a threat.

Potential Threats:

      • There is a terror threat to the Olympic Games at this time.  Specifically, a Chechen separatist group, Caucasus Emirate, vowed to disrupt the upcoming games in Sochi. In a video statement, group leader Doku Umarov pledged to “unleash maximum force” during the Olympics. In the same call to arms, Umarov urged Islamist militants to “do their utmost to derail the Games” and stressed the “obligation to use all means to prevent [them].”  Additionally, there have been several attacks in nearby cities, including the recent suicide attacks in Volgograd.
      • A group calling itself Vilayat Dagestan also posted a 49-minute video to a jihadist web forum in which they took responsibility for the December suicide bombings in Volgograd, Russia and issued a direct threat to the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics. In the video, Vilayat Dagestan claimed the two men featured were the suicide bombers behind the attacks in Volgograd, which together left at least 34 people dead. The group also warned that other fighters will follow with attacks if the Olympics are held as planned in Sochi.
      • Terrorists in Chechnya and the North Caucasus have demonstrated the ability to conduct complex and deadly attacks far from their normal area of operations.
          • Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak publically stated Russia’s secret services have already uncovered plans for attacks. Terrorists could potentially use the games to garner international attention and publicity. 
      • A lone-wolf attacker, unaffiliated with a terror organization, could possibly target the Games.
      • Additional attacks by “Black Widow” suicide bombers remain a substantial threat. Black widows are the wives of militants who died carrying out terrorist operations and now seek to martyr themselves. Amid the general concern about a potential black widow attack, Russian authorities announced that they are looking for as many as four Black Widows, who intend to carry out attacks against the Winter Olympics. Officials report that one of the suspects, 23-year-old Ruzan “Ruzana” Ibragimova, left Dagestan earlier this month and is believed to be in or near Sochi.
          • New information has emerged indicating Russian authorities are searching for three Black Widows and two male suicide bombers who may be planning to target the final stages of the Olympic torch relay, possibly in Rostov-on-Don. Additionally, there are reports that the bombers may not be dressed in clothes that adhere to Islamic tradition, in order to disguise their appearance.
      • Separatist groups, such as the Circassian Nationalists, may take a violent approach to gaining attention for their ideology.
          • Circassia was a region and former country along the Black Sea that was conquered by Russia. Sochi is its historic capital.
      • The cyber security threat has become more prevalent in recent years. 
          • Previous U.S. State Department reports have warned of highly specialized and trained Russians citizens able to gain information through unprotected computer networks. The Regional Security Office recommends using counter-surveillance techniques, video monitoring devices, alarm systems, and computer network protection programs.
          • In preparation for the Winter Olympic Games, $580 million was spent to construct and revamp the region’s telecommunications system. Previously the system was outdated, leading analysts to question the infrastructure’s integrity. The new system will likely be secure, but credible tests have yet to be conducted.

Past Terror Plots Targeting Russia:

Russia has experienced a significant amount of terrorist activity in the past decade, many occurring in the country’s North Caucasus region. Notable and recent attacks include:
      • January 9, 2014: Six suspicious deaths and at least one explosion were reported in Russia’s Stavropol territory, located approximately 150 miles northeast of the site of the upcoming Olympic Games. A nearby explosive device was detonated while police were investigating one of the scenes. Additional explosive devices were discovered and disposed of by bomb squad personnel. The events are likely not linked to the upcoming Olympic Games but are a continuance of the ongoing insurgency in the region aimed at targeting local police and the Russian state in which the attacks occurred.
      • December 30, 2013:  At least 10 people were killed and more than 20 injured in a suicide bombing on a trolley in Volgograd, Russia. The trolley was packed with morning commuters at the time of the attack. The explosion took place as the bus was approaching a stop near a busy market and the city’s main hospital.
      • December 29, 2013:  A suicide attack at the Volgograd-1 train station took place in the Dzerzhinsky district of Volgograd. The attacker detonated in proximity to metal detectors and the security screening area located within the station.  The blast blew out windows and doors on the front of station, killing at least 18 and injuring dozens of others. The attack has been linked to a Russian citizen and former paramedic that converted to Islam.
      • October 21, 2013:  A suspected female suicide bomber killed six people in an attack on a bus in Volgograd, Russia.
      • May 2012: Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) thwarted a plot by the Caucasus Emirate militant that targeted the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The operation resulted in the arrest of three members belonging to the group. The authorities conducting the operation discovered a weapons cache and plot to smuggle the weapons into Sochi, for attacks before and during the Olympic Games. The weapons seized included surface-to-air missiles, grenade launchers, flamethrowers, grenades, rifles and maps covering undisclosed locations. The plot was reportedly planned by the group’s leader Doku Umarov. The raid took place in Abkhazia which shares a border with Russia only ten miles from Sochi.
      • January 24, 2011:  The Domodedovo International Airport bombing was a suicide attack, which occurred in the international arrival hall of the busy Moscow airport. The bombing killed at least 37 people and injured 180. Russia's Federal Investigative Committee later identified the suicide bomber as a 20-year-old from the North Caucasus.
      • March 29, 2010:  Suicide bombings were carried out by two women during morning rush hour at the Lubyanka and Park Kultury stations of the Moscow Metro. At least 40 people were killed and over 100 were injured.


Russia is notorious for human rights violations as well as censorship of the press. Consequently, athletes wishing to use their platform to speak out against Russia’s controversial laws will only be permitted to do so from accredited areas. The International Olympic Committee has confirmed Sochi organizers will provide “protest zones.”  Prior to hosting the Winter Olympics, legal protests required approval from the Kremlin and illegal or unapproved protests were responded to with harshness and severity from Russian authorities.
      • The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community is likely to protest Russia’s anti-gay legislation.
          • On June 11, Russia’s parliament unanimously passed a federal law banning gay propaganda. The law is regarded by many human rights organizations and members of the international community as a human rights violation. Violent clashes erupted the day the bill became law, when 300 activists gathered outside parliament to both support and oppose the law. During the Olympic Games, the controversial law may garner negative attention and reaction by gay athletes, gay activits and members of the LGBT community. LGBT Network, a St. Petersburg-based group has promised to protest the law.
          • In addition to protests by the LGBT community, activists may be met with staunch resistance. Polls indicate the majority of Russia’s citizens oppose same-sex marriage and support the laws enacted against LGBT citizens. Since the passage of the anti-gay propaganda law, there has been a noticible increase of hate crimes against the LGBT community.  
      • The Circassian Nationalists have demanded the Olympic Games be cancelled or moved from Russia pending a government issued apology for 19thcentury deaths considered by some to be genocide.  Circassian Nationalists have demanded an independent Circassian state free from Russian rule.
          • In preparation and consideration for increased media coverage, Circassians are increasing their efforts to obtain the support of global public opinion, and have been building a protest movement in preparation for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
          • Circassians have already publically protested the Winter Olympics, which they have dubbed the “Genocide Olympics.” In May 2010, many Circassians marched in Istanbul, Turkey demanding the cancellation or movement of the games. In the aforementioned video released by Doku Umarov, the Games were described as “satanic dances on the bones of [Circassian] ancestors.”
          • Circassians view Sochi, and especially the ski resort at Krasnya Polyana, as the focal points of their tragic history. Protests against the Sochi Olympics will likely draw on historical themes and motifs associated with the Circassian people.


      • Local criminals may exploit the opportunity presented by the heavy influx of foreign tourists, athletes, vendors, and sponsors in the country. Visitors may be confronted with the issue of petty street crimes that include pickpocketing, robbery and assault. The 2011 Overseas Security Advisory Council’s (OSAC) report specifically warned travelers about pick-pocketing in highly frequented pedestrian traffic areas such as train stations, markets, and popular tourist areas.
          • Specifically mentioned in the report is the “turkey drop” tactic used when a thief drops a roll of coins on the ground and then accuses an unsuspecting victim of stealing some of the dropped currency. The thieves demand to see the victim’s wallet, then steal any valuables. Tourists approached by someone with a roll of coins, or who have observed money on the ground, are advised to quickly leave the area.
          • ATM related robberies occur with frequency in Russia.  Often, criminals will target secluded individuals using ATMs in isolated locations.
      • Non-permitted or illegal taxi drivers may lock a patron in the vehicle or threaten a rider with death until a certain amount of money is paid. Riders are advised to agree upon the price and destination before entering the vehicle as is custom in Russia.
      • Visitors are urged to maintain situational awareness especially when traveling through heavily trafficked areas like transportation hubs and Olympic venues.
      • Another criminal issue that will likely be prevalent throughout the Olympic Games is selling fraudulent tickets and passes.  Buyers should be on alert for ticket scammers, including websites claiming to be selling official tickets.


      • Sochi lacks an extensive network of roads, which are likely unable to efficiently accommodate an increase in traffic caused by the Olympic Games. This will likely result in substantial chokepoints, lack of alternate routes and heavy traffic delays.
      • These traffic infringements could hinder the ability of security personnel and first responders to react to potential emergency situations and also increase travel times to medical centers.
      • Due to a heavy traffic volume extreme delays should be expected at all transportation hubs including airports, bus stations and railways.


      • Russian intelligence, security and law enforcement officials are working to secure Sochi during the Winter Olympic Games.
      • According to Russian officials, the Olympic security effort will not focus solely on Sochi. Security will be increased throughout the entire country, especially the North Caucasus region.
      • The Sochi Olympic Park and Krasnaya Polyana will reportedly be protected by more than 40,000 law enforcement officers. Security and police officers at the games will be able to converse with guests and spectators in English, French, and German.
      • Russian security officials will also utilize unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and explosive-seeking robotic vehicles.
      • Restrictions on movement in and around Sochi will be introduced from January 7 through March 21. There will be controlled zones, which will include Olympic venues, infrastructure, and transportation facilities. In addition, there will be forbidden zones set to include the Russian-Abkhazia border and Sochi National Park. Viewers of the Games will be required to obtain “spectator passes” which will be obtained after disclosing personal information to the Russian government, to include passport details and biographical information. “Spectator Passes” will be required to enter the Olympic venue.
      • All civil demonstrations, protests and gatherings will be required to obtain approval from the FSB, police and local government. Special zones for protests and demonstrations have been designated in advance.

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(Image Credit: NY Times)

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