The U.S. State Department today urged Americans traveling to the Winter Olympics in Sochi in southern Russia to be "vigilant and exercise good judgment" during the Games because of the continuing terrorist threat to the region.
"There is no indication of a specific threat to U.S. institutions or citizens, but U.S. citizens should be aware of their personal surroundings and follow good security practices," the State Department said in a Travel Alert issued today.
The alert noted a recent string of suicide bombings in Volgograd, Russia, a transportation hub to the northeast of Sochi, as well as the region's decade-plus-long struggle against Islamic terrorism, which has included bombings at airports, hotels, entertainment sites and markets among others. Many of those attacks, the alert said, were carried out by an Islamist group known as the Caucasus Emirate and its leader, Doku Umarov. Last July Umarov released a video urging his followers to put a stop to the Sochi Olympic Games, calling them a "satanic dance on the bones of our ancestors."
Though the alert says Russian authorities have "indicated that they are taking appropriate security measures in Sochi," it reminds travelers that "large-scale public events such as the Olympics present an attractive target for terrorists."
Earlier today ABC News reported some U.S. counter-terrorism experts said they have lost confidence in Russia's ability to safeguard the Games and, perhaps more importantly, the "soft targets" outside the Games' official sites like the hotels and restaurants - locations to which the State Department's alert referred.
In addition to the influx of thousands of Russian policemen, FBI Director James Comey told reporters Thursday a contingent of FBI agents would be on the ground during the Games for added security.
In January 2010 the State Department issued a similar warning for Americans heading to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, saying those Games could be a tempting target for al Qaeda. That warning came days after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear on a plane over Detroit in a failed al Qaeda operation. The Vancouver Games went off without a hitch.
Today's travel alert also warned U.S. citizens of the threat of crime surrounding the Olympics and specifically noted Russia's controversial laws banning the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations." The State Department urged lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transsexual U.S. citizens to review the State Department's LGBT Travel Information web page for additional information.