Olympics safety concerns have deep roots, says Emory expert

By Corey Broman-Fulks | Jan. 31, 2014

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The threats of and acts of terrorism in Sochi, Russia, have marred what is typically an exciting time leading up to the start of the Olympics, raising concern on whether the athletes and attendees will be safe.

Emory University history professor Matthew Payne says the terrorism threats Russia is experiencing now date back 150 years.

"Hundreds of thousands of Muslims were slaughtered and uprooted [in the Sochi region in the 1860s]," says Payne, an expert on modern Russia and soviet history. "It is still remembered as a genocide by the North Caucasian peoples."

The probable culprit behind Russia's latest round of suicide bombings is Dokka Umarov, a Chechen Islamist militant, Payne says. Recent news reports have said Umarov was killed, but no body has been found and no description of how he may have died has been released.

"Umarov definitely is using [the Olympics] as an excuse for possible terror attacks, since he sees Putin as desecrating the bones of the ancestors," Payne explains.

While Russian leaders try to persuade people that the country and the Olympics are safe, Payne says that event may not even be the target.

"The Chechens in general and Umarov in particular never strike where they say they are going to strike," Payne says, "so this whole ‘black widows' thing could be a real diversion for another spectacular attack." 

Sochi safety 

Anthony Lemieux, visiting psychology professor in Emory’s School of Medicine, says although Russian officials have increased security and say the games are safe, it still may not be enough.

“While security has been bolstered in a so-called ‘ring of steel,’ there are many potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited and we certainly know that the motivations to attack exist,” he says. “In addition to concerns about physical security, there are many threats to data security, personal and financial details that can be hacked and exploited as well.”

Lemieux is an expert in terrorist motivations radicalization and the psychology of terrorism. He’s also an investigator with the National Center for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.