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Russia hunts for ‘black widow’ suspects ahead of Sochi games

January 21, 2014 at 6:42 PM EDT
In Sochi, Russia, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, images of three women were posted around the city. Known as "black widows," the suspects are believed to be potential suicide bombers, intent on attacking the games. Hari Sreenivasan looks at recent bombings in the region and how Russia and the U.S. are reacting.

GWEN IFILL: Authorities in Russia are on the hunt for three women suspected of planning terrorist attacks at the upcoming Winter Olympics, now less than weeks away.

President Obama spoke today with Russian President Vladimir Putin to offer his full support in helping ensure a safe and secure Games in Sochi.

Hari is back to begin our coverage.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The streets of Sochi were heavy with security today. And images of three potential female suicide bombers were posted around the city. They’re known as black widows, women who were married to Islamist militants killed by security forces.

Police said it’s believed that one of them, 22-year-old Ruzana Ibragimov, is already inside Sochi.

Texas Congressman Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Commission, was there today, assessing the situation.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL, R-Texas: All the briefings that I have received from the intelligence community to the FBI and others indicate that there are serious concerns and that we need to do a lot to step up security. We have 15,000 Americans traveling to Sochi for the Olympics.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The challenge grows out of a long-running Islamist insurgency in Russia’s North Caucasus region, which includes Dagestan and Chechnya. Sochi lies roughly 400 miles away, but the militants have demonstrated an ability to reach across Russia.

In late December, two suicide bombings hit the southern city of Volgograd, killing 34 people. On Sunday, an Islamist group in Dagestan claimed responsibility for that attack, and threatened the Olympics.

Today, Russia’s National Anti-Terror Committee said police killed a senior Islamist militant in a shoot-out in the North Caucasus. Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised a ring of steel to protect Sochi. And Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov counseled calm today. He said the world will join Russia in safeguarding the Olympics.

SERGEI LAVROV, Russian Foreign Minister (through interpreter): Terrorism has no nationality. Terrorism has an international dimension. President Putin has repeatedly stated that we will ensure security at the Olympic Games. Special staff are operating, including representatives of practically all the states whose athletes will participate, and I’m convinced sufficient measures are being undertaken.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In the meantime, the Olympic Torch has reached Southern Russia, en route to Sochi.