The leader of an Islamist terrorist group in Russia’s North Caucasus region Wednesday called on his followers to use “maximum force” to disrupt the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, an event on which President Vladimir Putin has staked his reputation.
WSJ Doku Umarov, the leader of a group of militants seeking to establish an Islamist state in the volatile Caucasus region, said in a video aimed at his followers that a February 2012 order not to strike Russian targets outside the region had been rescinded.
Russia’s National Anti-Terror Committee, which coordinates the fight against terrorists, issued a statement in response to the video saying that authorities are “constantly implementing a complex of measures aimed at ensuring the security of Russian citizens” and guests for the games. The authenticity of the video couldn’t immediately be confirmed, but the site has often been used for video messages from Mr. Umarov and other insurgent leaders.
Islamist groups fighting in the Caucasus regularly claim responsibility for attacks on police and security forces, while Russian authorities report operations against alleged fighters on a nearly weekly basis. A total of 41 security personnel and 62 militants were killed in attacks in the first five months of this year, according to Caucasian Knot, an independent group that monitors the conflict.
Early last year, Russia authorities said they had captured what they said was a large delivery of weapons, including bomb-making supplies and portable antiaircraft missiles, to the Sochi area that they said had been coordinated by Mr. Umarov and his followers. (Mr. Umarov’s followers staged the 2004 Beslan school massacre)
In the video released Wednesday, Mr. Umarov said the Russians “plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims buried on the territory of our land on the Black Sea, and we mujahedeen are obliged not to permit that, using any methods allowed us by the almighty Allah.” He was sitting in front of an Islamist flag, flanked by two lieutenants in what appeared to be a wooded area, with the sound of birds chirping in the background.
He called on followers in the North Caucasus republics—including Chechnya, where Russia has fought two wars against separatists in the last two decades—as well as neighboring Muslim regions of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan, to disrupt “this satanic dancing on the bones of our ancestors.” Kazan, the Tatar capital, is hosting the summer Universiade, a world student sports competition, starting this weekend.
A veteran of the separatist wars in Chechnya, Mr. Umarov has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in Russia, including a suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport that killed 37 people in 2011. Last year, he called on followers to suspend attacks in which Russian civilians might suffer, but in Wednesday’s video he said he was lifting that moratorium, which he said Russian authorities had interpreted as a sign of weakness.
Grigory Shvedov, editor in chief at Caucasian Knot, said violence in the region has picked up in the last year as the Kremlin appears to have taken a harder line in the conflict with Islamist groups. “Brute force has completely replaced soft power,” he said. Though Russian authorities say the Islamist groups are weakened and scattered, Mr. Shvedov said, “I view this threat as serious.”
“Unfortunately, I have every reason to think they would be able to organize a suicide attack around the games,” he said.