Fears for winter games as bodies found wired to bomb
RUSSIA has put security forces on combat alert in the southern Stavropol region after the discovery of five corpses with gunshot wounds and explosive devices, barely a month before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
The victims -- which included three taxi drivers, as well as a local furniture dealer -- had all been shot, and three of the four vehicles were rigged with explosives.
A bomb rigged to the first car to be discovered went off as police approached the vehicle to investigate, but injured no one. The other two devices were reportedly defused.
Stavropol, about 300km from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, is the gateway to the North Caucasus region, where Russia faces an insurgency by Islamist militants who have threatened to try to prevent the Olympics going ahead.
Annihilate President Vladimir Putin, who has staked a lot of political and personal prestige in the Games, has already ordered a beefing up of security measures nationwide after suicide bombers killed at least 34 people in separate attacks last month in Volgograd. The corpses were found on Wednesday in four cars in two separate locations in the Stavropol region.
A homemade explosive device in a bucket was also found near one of the vehicles. It was not clear if the killings had any connection to the Sochi Games. The acting governor of the Stavropol region, Vladimir Vladimirov, told the state Rossiya 24 broadcaster that authorities had taken measures "to annihilate or detain criminals who might have taken part in these cases".
Rossiya 24 reported a sixth body was found in similar circumstances and said two of the victims were local taxi drivers. This report could not immediately be confirmed.
Mr Putin pledged after the Volgograd attacks to annihilate all "terrorists" in Russia.
The Winter Olympics open on February 7 in Sochi, which is located on the western edge of the mountainous Caucasus region where the insurgents want to carve out an Islamic state.
The head of Russia's Olympic Committee has said Moscow has taken every possible measure to ensure the Games' safety.
Russian forces went on combat alert in Sochi on Tuesday and about 37,000 personnel are now in place to provide security at the Games.
But while officials and media originally speculated that the killings may have been gang-related, by last night it was becoming clear that police and security services were treating them as terror-related.
Counter-terrorist operations were ongoing in two districts of the Stavropol region, both of which border Kabardino Balkaria, a republic in the Russian North Caucasus where a separatist Islamist insurgency continues to battle Russian forces.
The Federal Security Service, Russia's main internal security agency, asked locals to remain indoors and if they were on the streets to exercise vigilance, looking out for abandoned vehicles in particular.
Local authorities called out the army and even local Cossacks to back up a high-visibility security presence across the region. "In addition to law enforcement agencies, the Stavropol region is also now being patrolled by Cossack brigades," Mr Vladimirov said in a statement yesterday.
"I have appealed to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu for help in strengthening security in the region with the 49th Army." (© Daily Telegraph, London)