Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By Stephen Wilson
The Associated Press
LONDON – IOC President Thomas Bach expressed full confidence Monday that Russian authorities will deliver a “safe and secure” Olympics in Sochi despite the two deadly suicide bombings in southern Russia that heightened concerns about the terrorist threat to the Winter Games.
Women cry as they lay flowers outside the Volgograd main railway station in Volgograd, Russia, early Monday. Russian authorities ordered police to beef up security at train stations and other facilities across the country after two bombing attacks in two days in the southern city of Volgograd.
The Associated Press
The International Olympic Committee said Bach wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin to offer his condolences following the attacks on Sunday and Monday that killed at least 31 people in Volgograd.
A suicide bomber killed 14 people aboard an electric bus during Monday’s morning rush hour, a day after a bomb blast killed at least 17 people at the city’s main railway station.
“This is a despicable attack on innocent people and the entire Olympic Movement joins me in utterly condemning this cowardly act,” Bach said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the victims.”
Volgograd is located about 400 miles northeast of Sochi, which will host the Olympics from Feb. 7-23. Russia’s first Winter Games are a matter of personal pride and prestige for Putin.
Russian authorities believe the two attacks were carried out by the same group. No one claimed responsibility for the bombings, which came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov threatened new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Olympics.
Bach said his letter to Putin expressed “our confidence in the Russian authorities to deliver safe and secure games in Sochi.”
“I am certain that everything will be done to ensure the security of the athletes and all the participants of the Olympic Games,” he said.
“Sadly, terrorism is a global disease but it must never be allowed to triumph,” Bach added. “The Olympic Games are about bringing people from all backgrounds and beliefs together to overcome our differences in a peaceful way.”
Russian Olympic Committee chief Alexander Zhukov said there was no need to take any extra steps to secure Sochi in the wake of the Volgograd bombings because “everything necessary already has been done.”
Still, the Volgograd bombings have brought home the security threat to Olympic athletes and administrators preparing to travel to Sochi.
Rene Fasel, president of the international ice hockey federation and head of the umbrella group of winter Olympic sports bodies, said security in Sochi will be similar to Salt Lake City when it hosted the 2002 Winter Games just months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the U.S.
“It will be very difficult for everybody. People will complain about security,” Fasel said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’m sure the Russians will do everything possible, but that means we will have an unbelievable (tight) security control.”
Fasel said the Olympics should not bow to the terror threats.
“We have to be strong,” he said. “We decided to go to Sochi and the only answer to these bombings and terrorist incidents is to go there.”
On Monday the White House said the United States “would welcome” the opportunity for closer security cooperation with Russia for the Olympics.
Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden says the U.S. has already offered “full support” to Russia as it makes security preparations for the games. But she says the U.S. would welcome “closer cooperation” to ensure the safety of athletes, spectators and other participants.
Hayden also says the U.S. condemns the attacks and offers its deepest condolences to the victims’ families.
Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjoergen said Sunday she was frightened by the first attack in Volgograd.
“It’s still difficult to say whether it has anything to do with the Sochi Olympics,” she told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. “This came suddenly and I need to find out more about it. But one is slightly prepared for this kind of thing to happen and of course I’m a bit scared. I’m counting on that they will take good care of us and that we have good security during the games in Sochi.”
Gerhard Heiberg, a Norwegian IOC member who organized the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, said he was not surprised that bombings have occurred ahead of the Sochi Games but voiced confidence in the Russian security plans.
“I feel that everything that is humanly possible is being done,” he told the AP. “When we come to Sochi, it will be impossible for the terrorists to do anything. The village will be sealed off from the outside world.”
The British Olympic Association said it was monitoring the situation in Volgograd and was in regular contact with the Foreign Office, police, the IOC, other governing bodies and athletes.
“Our preparations for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games continue and we are confident the Russian officials will regularly assess the security measures that are in place to make certain the environment is as safe as possible,” the BOA said.
Associated Press writer Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed to this report.