Russian security forces say they have killed the suspected leader of a local militant group in Dagestan, a restive region of southern Russia near Sochi, the site of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games.
Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) released a statement today identifying the alleged militant as Eldar Magatov and said he was at the top of a militant group in the Babyurt district of Dagestan.
Magatov was holed up in a house with women and children, but police were able to get them out before engaging in a fatal firefight with Magatov, the NAK said. An English-language report by RIA Novosti, a state-owned Russian news organization, said Magatov is suspected of multiple crimes in Dagestan and neighboring Chechnya including bombings and the attempted assassination of local officials.
Russian forces have been battling insurgents in Dagestan and surrounding regions for decades, and such violent security operations are not uncommon. However, this purported terror takedown comes as Russian authorities seek to ensure the international community that the Winter Olympics at Sochi, some 375 miles east of the Babayurt district of Dagestan, will be safe despite threats from Islamic insurgents in the region - many hailing from Dagestan. The NAK statement describing Magatov's death made no mention of the Sochi Olympics.
Today the Chairman of the U.S.'s House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told ABC News in an exclusive interview that while he's convinced Russia has done just about everything it can to keep the Games safe, he still fears that terrorists already could be hiding within the Olympic security perimeter, or that they may simply strike so-called soft targets outside the Games.
"When I talked to security officials, they see that as the greatest risk and the greatest vulnerability," McCaul said of the soft targets, like malls, restaurants or train and bus stations. "Because as long as they can hit somewhere close, it's still a victory in their mind."