Russian security forces are on high alert in Sochi, site of the upcoming winter games, after it was revealed that a possible female suicide bomber may already have found a way past President Putin’s vaunted “Ring of Steel.”
Ruzanna Ibragimova, 22-year old widow, is reportedly a member of the Caucasus Emirate. Her husband died in a gunfight with Russian police in Dagestan in 2013. The Emirate, under its leader Doku Umarovy, has threatened to strike at the 2014 winter games, prompting a flurry of increased security provisions by the Russian hosts.
According to hotel employees in Sochi who spoke to ABC news, wanted posters depicting Ibragimova and a description of her have been distributed widely in an attempt to make her recognizable. ABC reports that a “similar flyer was also seen posted at Sochi’s airport.” Ibragimova is described as “as having a 10 centimeter scar across the left cheek, a pronounced limp, and a stiff left arm that doesn’t bend at the elbow.”
Threats in the region have been treated seriously by Russian President Vladimir Putin, especially in the wake of the Volgograd train bombing in December which killed 34 people and threw an unwelcome international spotlight on the Caucasus and the security risks posed by holding the games so close to a region in turmoil.
For Russia’s strongman, any terrorist incident would be a huge embarrassment. The Kremlin in recent weeks has stepped up its attempts to portray the region as stable in the run-up to the games. Security has been beefed up with a 1,500-mile security zone being thrown up around Sochi to deter attacks.
Russian forces have also stepped up their kinetic actions against militants. Reports emerged over the weekend that Doku Umarovy may have been killed, but reports of Umarovy’s death have proved to be false in the past.
The millions of people watching the games make them ripe targets for militant groups, including the Caucasus Emirate.
“The specific worry is that she’s a woman and because of that it’s easier for women to infiltrate indoor or outdoor venues, that she could be a bomb carrier,” Caucasus expert and Georgetown University professor Christopher Swift told ABC. “The fact that one individual either was able to stay in the area before the ring of steel went up or get through it really raises questions about the strength of the Russia security apparatus,”
The U.S. Department of State has issued a travel alert to athletes and spectators traveling to Sochi, warning that the games represent an “attractive target for terrorists” and that U.S. citizens should “remain attentive regarding their personal security at all times.”
For the fourth time at the winter games, the U.S. delegation will be shadowed by a private security detail.