WASHINGTON – As Islamist militants continue to threaten attacks on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, U.S. military and intelligence agencies are looking at ways to evacuate Americans from the Games in the event Russian security officials are not able to protect them.
Meantime, sources tell WND the British intend to send their elite special forces unit, Special Air Service, or SAS, to accompany British athletes to Sochi.
A recent Canadian counterterrorism report said that Dokku Umarov, who heads the Chechen Islamist extremist fighters and wants to create a Caucasus Emirates subject to strict Shari’ah law, has threatened British athletes and generally has called for attacks on the “satanic games.”
“His view that Israeli, U.S. and UK interests are legitimate targets raises concerns that any Westerners could be ‘targeted,’” the secret Canadian report said.
British and Russian security officials are said to be working together to protect the British athletes.
Consideration to send special forces from the UK and possibly U.S. special forces units to accompany U.S. athletes comes just as a report has surfaced that Chechen extremists in a video have promised a “surprise package” at the Olympics. The warning was posted on a Chechen website.
“We’ll have a surprise for you,” one of the young militants said in the video. “And those tourists that will come to you, for them, too, we have a surprise. This is for all the Muslim blood that is shed every day around the world, be it in Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, all around the world. This will be our revenge.”
The Chechens, who are predominantly Muslims, have been seeking to establish a Caucasus Emirate separate from Russia, along with extremists in the neighboring North Caucasus Russian provinces of Ingushetia, Dagestan, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia.
Sochi is only 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, from these southern Russian provinces.
The current security threat surrounding the upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia brings to mind the terrorist attack by Palestinians at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich in which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and later killed.
The Russians already have reluctantly allowed two dozen armed agents from the FBI to provide assistance to stem any attack.
Twelve FBI agents are to remain in Moscow, which has been the target of subway, airport, bus and train attacks by the Islamists in the past. Another 12 FBI agents will be stationed in Sochi.
There remains a question whether the Russians, who believe they can deal with any contingency, will share intelligence or coordinate with the FBI agents in country.
The presence of FBI agents comes despite a U.S. State Department warning to U.S. citizens traveling to Sochi of the prospect of attacks and to remain vigilant.
Some 15,000 Americans are expected to travel to Sochi.
Sources say there is a possible contingency plan to extract U.S. athletes and visitors, but the sources admit that would be difficult.
While Russian officials may be reluctant to have a large number of U.S. military personnel inside Russian territory, the U.S. and the Russians have for the past three years quietly been undertaking anti-terrorism training, with some drills in the U.S.
Following a March 2010 suicide bomber attack on the Moscow subway, the Russians, U.S. and the United Kingdom created an anti-terrorism alliance.
With terrorism on the rise, especially in Russia, that cooperation is expected to increase, according to Dmitry Suslov, deputy director for research at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.
“The global terrorist threat will increase in the next few years, especially along the Russian borders,” Suslov said. “The overwhelming majority of experts agree that the civil war will escalate in Afghanistan after the reduction of the international troop contingent in 2014″ with the Taliban stepping up its terrorist activities to oust the U.S.-established government of President Hamid Karzai.
Because of this threat which will be on the rise throughout Central Asia, which borders Russia, Suslov said there will be a need for close and large-scale cooperation between Russia and the U.S. in counter-terrorism despite a number of political obstacles, including a decision on what future role the U.S. will play in Afghanistan, which could affect that cooperation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin who looks at the success of the Olympics as a centerpiece of his continued control over the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus provinces has said he will do “whatever it takes” to ensure the safety of Olympic visitors.
On the Sunday talk shows, however, a number of congressmen weren’t so certain the Russians can guarantee safety at the Games.
“We don’t seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the games,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee.
In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rogers said the Russians “aren’t 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?”
House Homeland Security committee Chairman Michael McCaul, speaking from Moscow, told ABC cooperation with the Russians “could be a lot better.” He said he would be meeting with Russian “command and control of operations” to assess the threat environment in Sochi.
Former Acting Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael Morell said, while there has been a history of cooperation between Olympic game hosts and the U.S. intelligence community, there hasn’t been such cooperation with the Russians for the Sochi Games.
“I think fundamentally they don’t want to admit that they don’t have complete control here and they might need some help,” Morell said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”