Potential Suicide Bomber in Sochi May Indicate Broader Threat to Olympics

A Russian police officer searches a driver as his vehicle is also screened at an entrance to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games park. A Russian police officer searches a driver as his vehicle is also screened at an entrance to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games park. David J. Phillip/AP

A former U.S. counterterrorism adviser says a potential suicide bomber's presence in Sochi, Russia, may indicate a broader plot afoot against next month's Olympics.

Russian officials said they were searching the host city of the upcoming Winter Olympics for Ruzanna Ibragimova, a 22-year-old woman described as a "black widow" of a slain Islamic fighter. Authorities described Ibragimova and two other females as possible participants in suicide-bomb plots, according to news reports.

Juan Zarate, a former U.S. deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, on Tuesday said Ibragimova might be just one participant in a larger conspiracy hatched by the Caucasus Emirate, an extremist organization that has threatened to carry out strikes at next month's games. The group aims to create an autonomous Islamic state in the North Caucasus region, located east of Sochi in southern Russia.

"The Caucasus Emirates and their various groups and operatives ... can use a variety of means to attack, not just a variety of targets to focus on," said the one-time White House official, speaking at a Washington panel discussion hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "They've used suicide bombers, to include the now-famed black widows; they’ve used teams of operatives; they’ve used assault teams. They’ve vectored against airplanes and metros and trains, hospitals, security sites."

Zarate, who supported the development of U.S. counterterrorism strategy from 2005 to 2009, added that future targets might similarly extend beyond the Olympics.

"You have the potential that [Ibragimova is] a singular actor intended to disrupt, but it also could be that she’s a part of a broader series of suicide bombers who have been dispatched to attack different sites," he said.

"No doubt the Russians are following not just reports of a singular actor, but multiple threat threads and individuals that they’re concerned with," said Zarate, who is now a CSIS senior adviser.

Olympics delegations from Hungary and Slovenia said they have received written threats, according to a Wednesday news report. The messages reportedly came in addition to threats issued previously by the Caucasus Emirate and others.

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