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Less than one month before the Olympics are set to begin, hotels in the host city of Sochi, Russia, are displaying police leaflets of three potential suicide bombers, one of whom is believed to be inside the city.
The three women are called “black widows” because they’re the wives of slain Muslim insurgents. On Monday, an Islamic group in the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan posted a video threatening to strike the Sochi games.
The U.S. has two Navy ships in the Black Sea to evacuate Americans if there is an attack. The BBC’s Steve Rosenberg is in Moscow and joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson with details.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW and we are just two and a half weeks away from the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, and the challenge today is a search for three potential suicide bombers, at least one of whom is believed to be in Sochi. Yesterday, Islamic militants posted a video threatening to strike the Sochi Games.
Joining us from Moscow with the latest is the BBC's Steve Rosenberg. And Steve, what kind of security response has there been from Russian authorities?
STEVE ROSENBERG: Well, for a start, a lot of security measures are being put in place for the Olympics in general. The Russians are saying that these are going to be the most secure Olympic Games in history. And that, of course, there's big security before any Olympics, but particularly in the light of threats made by Islamist militant groups ahead of these games.
The Russians are taking no chances. Forty thousand Russian police have been deployed in and around Sochi for the games. Special security zones have been set up. There's a forbidden zone where no one at all is allowed into, and there is a controlled zone where you need special accreditation to get into near the sporting venue.
No cards that are registered outside of Sochi will be allowed into Sochi until mid March and shops are being banned from selling hunting rifles and bullets, so a lot of measures are being taken. And I was in Sochi last week and certainly when you go up into the mountains where the ski events will be and the biathlon, events like that, you see big groups of police, a lot of police there.
The Russians clearly not taking any chances and want to make sure that there are no terror attacks in Sochi during the games.
HOBSON: Well, but tell us about the threats, because they've been pretty specific, even pointing out that they want to attack the tourists who are coming to see the games. And I know that there are posters up around for three black widows, that's the name of these three people that they authorities say are Muslim terrorist women who want to target the torch relay. What do we know about the threat?
ROSENBERG: OK. For a start, we should make clear that even before the Russians won the right to host these Winter Olympics, they knew that a Sochi Winter Games, there would be a terror threat. There's no doubt. So they've made their planning long ago for these games. But certainly from last year onwards, specific threats have been made against the Winter Olympics.
The Chechen rebel leader, Doku Umarov, has threatened to disrupt the Olympic Games and has called on his supporters to target the games. Yesterday, another Islamist militant group, which claimed that it carried out suicide bombings in Volgograd last month, it said it intended to target not only the Olympic Games specifically tourists who go to Sochi.
So this is a major concern. It's not a surprise to authorities, but it is a concern and it's a concern to athletes and spectators who are preparing to come to Sochi.
HOBSON: Well, and it's a concern for some members of Congress in the United States. Senator Angus King has said that he wouldn't want his family to go. Has any country decided not to send athletes or a delegation?
ROSENBERG: We haven't heard that here in Moscow. What the Russians are saying is that despite the threats which exist internationally, these games will be safe. The Russians say, and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, says that his country is going to take effective measures to make sure that the threat is minimized. The problem is, of course, it's one thing securing an Olympic town like Sochi; it's another thing securing a whole country like Russia, which is the biggest country in the world.
And I think that is where the main problems are. Sochi may well be the most secure town in Russia for the duration of the games, but that means perhaps that other cities further away from Sochi will not be so protected.
HOBSON: What about tickets, Steve? I know that they've had some problems selling tickets to these games. Has that gotten any better? Are people wanting to go?
ROSENBERG: Well, I saw some figures which suggested that 70 percent of tickets had been sold. I don't know what's going to happen with the 30 percent. One of the problems is getting to Sochi isn't easy. I mean, you've got to go through quite a bit of bureaucracy to get here and of course some people are concerned about the security threat despite what the Russians say. So there could be some empty seats.
Chatting away to people in Sochi, a lot of people are complaining about the games, complaining about the inconvenience. Sochi's been one big building site for the last few years. But a lot of the locals tell me that they intend to go to the games; they're looking forward to the ice hockey - particularly the ice hockey - and the Russia against the U.S.A. That's the big game. Everyone who I speak to says they're really looking forward to that one.
So even though people criticize the Olympics and complain constantly about the traffic jams that Olympic construction has been causing, and the high prices of tickets, a lot of locals are hoping to get a seat at the games.
HOBSON: Well, and of course, your fellow Brits all complained before the Olympics in London and then they were all quite happy with them when they were done.
ROSENBERG: It's the national sport complaining in Britain, of course. Absolutely. I think, you know, most people complain in Olympic cities, but at the end of the day, there will be a lot more in the town for people of Sochi to enjoy.
HOBSON: The BBC's Steve Rosenberg joining us from Moscow. Steve, thanks so much.
ROSENBERG: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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