ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Security agencies will make sure Russians fighting alongside rebels in Syria don’t pose a threat to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, the foreign minister said Friday.
Sergey Lavrov said in an interview that the potential threat of them coming home to launch attacks “would be taken into account very seriously.”
Lavrov said Moscow and Washington will cooperate on ensuring security for the Sochi Olympics, “making sure that the potentials of respective services and agencies of Russia and the United States are brought together to make the preparations more efficient.”
He refused to elaborate on what specific steps will be taken.
Some observers have voiced concern that Islamic militants from Russia who have fought together with Syrian rebels could return home and try to take revenge against Russia for its support of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The chief of Russia’s top security agency has said that about 200 Russians have joined the Syrian rebels, and acknowledged they could be a threat when they return.
Lavrov said nationals of European countries also have joined the rebels in Syria, and may pose a similar challenge to their home countries.
“This is not only relevant in the context of the Olympics, it’s also relevant in the context of day-to-day life of entire Europe, the United States and other countries,” he told The Associated Press and the Bloomberg news agency. “When this war is over … these guys wouldn’t be busy and they might look for some engagement” in the countries where they are citizens.
Russian officials have said that they have taken all necessary precautions to ensure the 2014 Winter Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi will be “the safest Olympics in history.” But security experts have pointed at an Islamic insurgency across the North Caucasus mountains that tower over Sochi, saying it could put President Vladimir Putin’s pet project at risk.
The elder of the two ethnic Chechen brothers from Russia who are accused of staging the Boston Marathon bombings spent six months last year in the restive Russian province of Dagestan, which lies about 500 kilometers (300 miles) east of Sochi. Russian investigators have been trying to determine whether he had contact with local Islamic militants.
Dagestan has become the epicenter of Islamic insurgency that has destabilized the North Caucasus, with rebels mounting daily attacks on police and other officials.
Lavrov sought to downplay the threat posed by militants in the Caucasus. “Terrorist attacks happen, they aren’t as numerous as before, and the Russian security services are becoming much more efficient in not only fighting the terrorists but also in preventing terrorist attacks,” he said.