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Top Russian Islamist calls for attacks on Sochi Games

An Ansar AlJihad Network internet image allegedly shows Chechen Islamist leader Doku Umarov
An Ansar AlJihad Network internet image allegedly shows Chechen Islamist leader Doku Umarov. Doku Umarov has called in a video released on Wednesday for jihadists to stage attacks against a range of targets that include the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.

Russia's top Islamist leader Doku Umarov called in a video released on Wednesday for militants to stage attacks against a range of targets that include the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.

The message comes seven months before the international sports event is due to open in the Black Sea resort city, a project President Vladimir Putin personally endorsed to showcase Russia to the world.

In the latest challenge to the $50 billion project, Umarov said he is cancelling his previous "moratorium" on attacks and called on jihadists to "exert maximum efforts" to prevent the Games from being held "on the bones of our ancestors".

"We know that on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many Muslims who died and are buried on our territory along the Black Sea, today they plan to stage the Olympic Games," said Umarov, filmed sitting in a wooded area with two other men.

"We, as the Mujahedeen, must not allow this to happen by any means possible," he said, while a bird chirped loudly in the background.

A man sits on the beachfront beneath a large 'Welcome to Sochi!' sign on February 18, 2013
A man sits on the beachfront beneath a large "Welcome to Sochi!" sign on February 18, 2013.

Sochi is located in the immediate proximity of Russia's North Caucasus -- an volatile region that has witnessed two post-Soviet wars in Chechnya and daily violence in Dagestan region.

Umarov has proclaimed the North Caucasus an Islamist state, calling it the Caucasus Emirate.

Russia's National Anti-Terrorist Committee responded quickly, saying the authorities focus on the "timely discovery and suppression of various threats, including terrorist ones, to ensure the order and safety of participants and guests" of international sports events.

But some analysts said Umarov's threat was real given the location of the venues -- only a few kilometres from the border of Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, where Russia uncovered an arms cache and arrested militants last year.

They are also located just across the Caucasus mountains range from the insurgencies being waged in Russia's North Caucasus republics.

"For a region that is located in the Caucasus it's very hard to guarantee that nothing will happen," said Andrei Soldatov, an analyst who edits the security website. "These are serious threats," he said.

"Umarov's message will cost a lot for Russia's budget," said Pavel Felgengauer, an analyst who writes for Novaya Gazeta opposition paper.

"There will be problems in Sochi."

In his comments, Umarov appeared to be referring to the deportation of ethnic tribes living in the Sochi area, known as the Circassians, by the 19th century tsarist army, following Russia's protracted Caucasus War, the campaign to pacify the region.

That war ended with a May 1864 parade in Sochi at the site of current development of mountain ski resorts, and Circassians see the Games' hosting on the 150th year anniversary of their defeat as an insult. They have criticised construction in their ancestral lands.

Following Russia's victory in the 19th century war, the Circassians were shipped to Muslim countries, notably Turkey. Many today believe this was an act of genocide, due to the huge humanitarian toll.

Circassians in Russia inhabit mostly the North Caucasus regions of Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia, but some have remained in the northern Sochi. They have put up only mild protests against the Games, unlike the diaspora.

In May 2012, Russia said it had foiled Umarov's attack plot against Sochi and uncovered a cache of weapons in Abkhazia.

Putin last month expressed concern that militants "constantly trickle to the Caucasus from Georgian territory" and Russian special forces have crossed the border to attack them.

Georgia's Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili on Wednesday promised to "assist (Russia) to the fullest extent" in ensuring security of the Olympics.

Umarov is viewed as Moscow's enemy number one and took responsibility for the 2010 Moscow metro bombings that killed more than 40 and the 2011 Domodedovo airport attack that killed 37.