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Sochi has its security concerns for Olympics

Posted on January 21, 2014 by Taber Times

It is a frightening prospect when a world event devoted to peaceful competition is threatened by a terrorist attack.

That being said, events like the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are obviously prime targets for terrorism, and for good reason — the eyes of the world are centered for a brief moment on a region of the globe that might be justly considered a backwater when it comes to most other happenings that interest the majority of the world’s population.

What better way to raise the profile of your cause or terrorist organization but to launch a terrorist attack in the midst of an international sporting competition, before the constantly rolling cameras of the global media and before millions of viewers around the world? To say the temptation would be irresistible would be an understatement.

It has happened before. At the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team, while the world looked on in horror. And a bombing during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta cast a pall over that competition, claiming two lives and injuring 111 people. And Olympics held in Russia don’t have the most uplifting historical precedent.

Just months before the Moscow Olympics in 1980, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to a Western boycott.  

Now in the lead-up to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, twin explosions in the Russian city of Volgograd (about 400 miles north of Sochi) just before the new year have killed 34 people, raising questions as to just how tight Russian security will be for the Games in a Caucasus region that has witnessed much violence in recent years.

An Islamist insurgency in the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region, known as the Caucasus Emirate, has been linked in connection with the most recent bombings in Southern Russia. Led by a self-styled Chechen rebel named Doku Umarov, Caucasus Emirate has already been urging followers to “do their utmost to derail” the upcoming Games in Sochi.

An ominous warning to say the least, and not one to be taken lightly given the recent terror climate in Russia. But Russian officials — to their credit — have been touting security preparations for the Games, closing a 1,500 mile iron ring around Sochi, rolling out tens of thousands of troops and security officials to cordon off the area and make it impregnable before the competition — scheduled for Feb. 6-23 — begins.

Just how impregnable Sochi will be remains to be seen. The Russians, for their part, seem to be leaving no stone unturned. Still, if history teaches us anything, impregnable fortresses are breached, and unsinkable ships are sunk. The Murphy’s law of history is overconfidence can be the most critical weakness of all, and to underestimate one’s enemies is a one-way ticket to defeat.

Paradoxical as it might seem, mobilizing a vast army of security and military resources in order to host an Olympic Games devoted to peace and brotherhood has become par for the course in the post 9/11 world. To ignore the threat would invite folly.

On the other hand, the selection of Sochi by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) probably bears further scrutiny. Officials that made the decision must have been aware of ongoing security concerns in the Caucausus region.

This tends to add fuel to the argument that the ultimate bottom line in selecting a host city’s bid — no matter what might be made public — has much more to do with dollar signs and much less to do with any other considerations.

Should a terror attack occur at Sochi in February, just how much weight the IOC placed on those security concerns prior to making a selection will rightly come under a more discerning microscope.

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