In the run up to the Sochi Olympics, Islamic terrorists from the Muslim-dominant Caucasus area, apparently making good on their threat to disrupt the Games, have been behind a spate of bombings and suicide attacks. Now, Russian authorities are investigating six suspicious deaths and at least one car explosion about 150 miles from the site of next month’s Olympics.
CNN The deaths in southern Russia’s Stavropol territory, which borders the province where the Olympics will be held in Sochi, have prompted security forces to conduct an anti-terrorism sweep there, state-run RIA Novosti news agency said. It’s one of the latest moves to address security concerns before the games.
The bodies of three men and explosive material were found Thursday in a vehicle in Maryinskaya in Stavropol province, Russia’s Investigative Committee said on its website. A day earlier, a vehicle containing a body exploded in Tambukan, in the same province, as police approached it, and two other bodies were found in other vehicles in Zolskaya Wednesday, the Investigative Committee said.
The latest alert comes amid heightened concern about security following twin bombings on public transit in the southern city of Volgograd at the end of last month. No group has claimed responsibility for those attacks, but suspicion has fallen on Chechen separatist groups. Three people also died last month in a car bombing in the city of Pyatigorsk, in Stavropol territory.
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, said it appeared that the latest killings may be the work of Islamist militants from the tiny North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, which neighbors Stavropol territory.
The militants have carried out similar attacks on taxi drivers and other ordinary people in the past three to four years, he said. They are motivated by a vendetta against the local police and authorities and, more broadly, against the secular Russian state.
The latest security incidents are not likely to be directly linked to the Winter Olympics in Sochi but are part of a bigger picture of unrest in the North Caucasus region, Trenin said. They are receiving more attention than usual because of the upcoming games, he added.
There has been no official confirmation that militants from Kabardino-Balkaria were involved in the suspicious deaths in Stavropol territory.
Security analysts have warned that terrorists targeting the games may try to strike elsewhere in Russia against softer targets than those in Sochi. Chechen warlord Doku Umarov, leader of the Islamist Caucasus Emirate group, last summer called on his followers to do what they could to disrupt the games.