Russian officials have created a 1,500 square-mile security zone around Sochi to protect the Winter Olympics from terrorist attacks like last month’s suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd. But news reports indicate that the country’s self-described ring of steel may have been penetrated by a 22-year-old female suicide bomber, a “black widow” of an Islamic militant seeking avenge the death of her husband who was killed by Russian forces. We asked Max Abrahms, a terrorism theorist and assistant professor of political science, to assess concerns surrounding the safety of the Games, which begin on Feb. 7.
Civilians are generally soft targets that are relatively easy for terrorists to strike. The Olympians themselves will be provided special security. A security perimeter around the competitions and Olympic village will pose challenges for terrorists to overcome. But many civilians will be outside this protected area, exposing them to potential attack. Chechen leaders have commanded their foot soldiers to attack civilians, so terrorists have both the will and a way of doing so.
After the U.S. experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s not surprising that the military has developed unique capabilities at thwarting IEDs. The U.S. should share such technology for the safety of the Olympics, even if Moscow remains reluctant to share sensitive information about terrorist threats. Doing so would help not only to bolster security, but also induce greater Russian reciprocity.
Absolutely not! Security is, of course, paramount. But the Olympics Games are important, too, both for sport as well as international relations. Although terrorists may target the Sochi Games, only a tiny fraction of people there would be directly affected. Let the Games go on!
– By Jason Kornwitz