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Sochi Threat Insert

Russian security forces have launched a massive manhunt for at least four potential suicide bombers who are preparing to launch terrorist attacks, including a frantic search for one “black widow” who may have already infiltrated the “ring of steel” security zone around the site of the upcoming Sochi Olympic Winter Games.

The frenzy of police activity, and the accompanying media storm, could be mainly the product of jitters among security forces as the opening day of the Games draws closer. But experts say the detailed nature of the reports are cause for serious concern, and that the danger posed by loosely organized underground networks of north Caucasus Islamist militants, who have pledged to target the Olympics, should not be underestimated.

Police are circulating posters showing a hijab-clad woman who is identified as Ruzana Ibragimova, also known as Salima, said to be the widow of an Islamic militant killed by Russian security forces last year. She has reportedly vowed to take revenge for her husband’s death by becoming a “shakhid,” or martyr – which, in Russia, has often meant strapping on a suicide vest and killing civilians. According to the semi-official BlogSochi.ru, Salima was recently spotted on a street in downtown Sochi, and police are now urgently combing the city’s hotels for any sign of her.

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According to NBC News, at least three more potential suicide bombers have been named as probably headed for Sochi.

In an interview with international media last week, President Vladimir Putin pledged that the Sochi Games will be safe. “We do everything with a clear understanding of the operational situation developing around Sochi and in the region as a whole; we have a perfect understanding of what it is, what is that threat, how to stop it, how to combat it…. If we allow ourselves to show weakness, to show our fear, it means we will help the terrorists achieve their goals,” he said.

But the U.S. State Department has issued a special travel alert for visitors to the forthcoming Sochi Games, specifically warning that terrorism remains a serious threat. And the Pentagon announced Monday that it is sending “air and naval assets,” including two warships, to the region. Experts say the key purpose would be to evacuate US citizens from Sochi in case of any emergency.

The warships will be on hand “for all manner of contingencies in support of – and in consultation with – the Russian government,” the Pentagon statement said.

– Scott Randell (@DefinedByMvsic)