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New details in Boston bombings revive fears for Sochi Olympics

April 19, 2013|By Emily Alpert
  • A police officer with a dog and security guards check a bus on April 16 entering the Olympic Park that is under construction for the 2014 Winter Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia.
A police officer with a dog and security guards check a bus on April 16 entering… (Artur Lebedev / Associated…)

After bombs ripped through the Boston Marathon this week, Russian officials promised to beef up security for the upcoming Winter Olympics, calling it a “clarion call” to take “tougher measures.”

Days later, the threat seemed to hit even closer to home for Russians as police scoured Boston for one of two Chechen brothers named as suspects in the deadly attack.

It is unclear what ties, if any, exist between Chechen militant groups and the Boston attack. The ethnically Chechen brothers had lived in Kyrgyzstan and fled to the United States a decade ago, according to their uncle, who told reporters the bombings had nothing to do with the bloody history of Chechnya.

Chechen militants “are an extremely violent armed insurgency that has repeatedly resorted to terror — but their ambitions are focused on the Caucasus, where their hands are full,” said Rajan Menon, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He was skeptical of the idea that Chechen extremist groups engineered the bombings, noting it was "amateurish" compared to past attacks in Russia.

The attack was nonetheless a reminder of the violence that has pocked Russia. Months before the bombings, security was already a worry, “as Sochi sits at the vortex of ethnic, religious and political disputes roiling the Caucasus region,” The Times’ Carol J. Williams wrote in February. Last year, Russia claimed it had foiled a plot by Chechen separatists to smuggle explosives into the Games.

As more details about the Boston suspects emerged Friday, fears of similar attacks on the 2014 Winter Games were revived. “In Russia, the worry is: Is this a stage rehearsal for Sochi?” Slava Malamud, a senior writer for the Russian daily Sports-Express, wrote on Twitter.

Russian officials have vowed to make the Sochi Games “the safest in history,” according to state media. Earlier this week, the head of the All-Russian Athletics Federation told the official news agency for the Sochi Games that they would “obviously draw conclusions from the incident in Boston.”

"Naturally, tougher measures will be taken," Valentin Balakhnichev told R-Sport.

Officials said they were testing security again Thursday in Sochi. “They are relatively nervous for the Games, which is correct because of the surrounding countries,” Gian Franco Kasper, a member of the International Olympic Committee coordination commission for Sochi, told the Associated Press.

But he added that the Olympics are “the most secure place you can find.” he added.

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