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Security fears intensify over Sochi Olympics

Lawmaker calls cooperation weak

Russian police patrolled the entrance of a church during heightened security for Orthodox Epiphany celebrations in Sochi Sunday. The city will host the Winter Olympics beginning Feb. 7, including an estimated 15,000 US visitors.Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters

WASHINGTON — In one of the sharpest expressions yet of American worries about possible terrorist threats to the Sochi Olympics, a key lawmaker in Congress said Sunday he was “very concerned” about security preparations there.

But in a separate interview Sunday, President Vladimir Putin of Russia said that the nation would “do whatever it takes” to protect the thousands of visitors arriving soon for the Winter Games. And Putin reiterated that Russia would welcome athletes and visitors of any sexual orientation, despite laws in his country that are hostile to gay men and lesbians.

The lawmaker, Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said US officials working with Russians ahead of the Games had “found a departure of cooperation that is very concerning.”


In particular, Rogers said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “they’re not giving us the full story about, what are the threat streams, who do we need to worry about, are those groups — the terrorist groups who have had some success — are they still plotting?”

Two suicide bombings in the central Russian city of Volgograd late last year claimed at least 34 lives, raising fears about the security of the Olympics in Sochi, which is about 400 miles to the southwest. Extremists affiliated with the militant leader Doku Umarov have vowed to disrupt the Olympics.

The Russia militant group Vilayat Dagestan claimed responsibility for the Volgograd bombings in a statement posted Sunday, the Associated Press reported. The group also released a video showing two men stating they were behind the bombings and threatening to carry out more attacks.

With an estimated 15,000 Americans planning to travel to Sochi for the games, which run from Feb. 7 to 23, Rogers said his concerns would remain until Russian security services provided their “full cooperation.”


The State Department has advised Americans who plan to attend the Olympics that they should keep vigilant about security because of potential terrorist threats, crime, and uncertain medical care.

Another key lawmaker, Representative Michael T. McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, also expressed concerns about Sochi preparations, though he said he believed that “President Putin is taking this very seriously” and “taking all the precautions.”

But given the recent deadly attacks by regional terrorist groups and the threats of more to come, McCaul said, he believed that attacks somewhere in Russia during the Olympics were “likely.”

With the Russians promising to surround Sochi with a “ring of steel,” McCaul said on ABC’s “This Week,” “I think it’s more likely that the attacks would probably happen outside the perimeter, more soft targets, transportation modes, if you will.”

McCaul said he would travel to Sochi on Monday to confer with security officials, in part to study their plans for evacuations in the event of any attack.

Putin, in his taped interview, again sought to reassure foreign visitors that travel to Russia would be safe. “We will do whatever it takes” to ensure security, he told George Stephanopoulos of ABC-TV, who was broadcasting from Sochi.

The Russian president said that a full panoply of security measures was being brought to bear not just in Sochi, but also elsewhere in Russia, adding, “If necessary, all those tools will be activated.”

Putin said that if foreign athletes wanted to provide their own additional security, “there is nothing wrong with that,” so long as they coordinated with the Russian authorities.


Several officials from the FBI will be in Sochi to attend to the security of the US team.

Putin said 40,000 police and special services officers have been deployed in Sochi to assist with security. Russia is spending at least $48 billion to stage the games, more than any previous host nation.

Sochi is west of the Caucasus mountains, which extend 745 miles across Chechnya. The Caucasus region has been the center of violence by Muslim extremists since the two separatist wars that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Putin had no comment about President Obama’s decision not to attend the games.

Relations between the United States and Russia have been strained over many issues, including Russia’s granting temporary asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who is wanted by the US government for revealing state secrets.