Countries unite to disrupt terror threats to Sochi Olympic Games
CNN — U.S. authorities are working with Russia and other countries to try to disrupt possible threats related to the Sochi Olympics, in addition to the toothpaste tube terror concern, a U.S. intelligence source said. The official said the threats varied in credibility.
The biggest source of those threats is the group Imarat Kavkaz in Russia, which has publicly said it will try to disrupt the Games, the official said Thursday.
The concern about the threat of toothpaste or cosmetic tubes being used to hide explosives originated "from the leader of the Chechen rebel extremists," said U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
"That's where the plot hatched out of," McCaul said in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
U.S. Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, D-Maryland, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN the information passed on to U.S. authorities about explosives disguised as toothpaste and cosmetics mainly came from "chatter," but he said the U.S. was right to act out of caution because often, chatter indicates a real threat.
Concern about the threat prompted French officials to arrest two Chechen women this week, the U.S. intelligence source said.
Eric Pelletier, the national security correspondent for the French newspaper L'Express, said French intelligence began looking into the connection of the women to terrorism in December after information from a foreign intelligence service warned of a "black widow" threat, intelligence sources told CNN. One was the wife of a Chechen terrorist who had possibly been killed, and the other was his sister, sources told Pelletier. At the same time, Russia sent similar communiques to other European countries about concerns that Chechens and others planned to return to Russia to carry out an attack. This seems to have been largely preventive.
Pelletier said the sources indicated the information came from Russian intelligence. There was concern the women in France would travel to Russia -- and more specifically the Sochi area -- to launch suicide attacks during the Olympics.
While the initial warning to the French did not mention a concern about explosives in toothpaste tubes, a subsequent intelligence alert sent to Western intelligence services in January regarding the toothpaste threat raised the level of concern about the two women.
In the French arrests this week, authorities were looking for evidence connected to the toothpaste tubes threat, Pelletier said. But after the arrests, French law enforcement found nothing to suggest the women were a threat or had plans to travel to Russia. One was let go, and another remains in custody.
Similar arrests were reported in Austria, but according Helmer Dumbs, a national security reporter in Austria, the Interior Ministry denied there was any connection to the use of toothpaste container explosives on planes.
But according to McCaul, though cleared, the Austrian suspects remain a concern.
"There were six Austrians detained and questioned and, for lack of evidence, let go," McCaul said in the interview with Blitzer. "They are under surveillance. Currently, they are of a concern, obviously."