Russian security services may be looking for as many as four “black widows” dispatched to carry out terrorist attacks related to the Winter Olympics, including at least one woman believed to be in or near the Olympic city of Sochi, U.S. and Russian sources told NBC News on Monday.
Wanted posters distributed in Sochi, where the games open Feb. 7, describe at least one suspected terrorist — Ruzana Ibragimova, also known as Salima, the 22-year-old widow of an Islamic militant killed by Russian security forces last year.
The notices describe her as having a limp in her right leg, a left arm that does not bend at the elbow and a 4-inch scar on her cheek.
In a video, recorded before their deaths, that has recently surfaced, two suicide bombers suspected of a deadly attack on a Volgograd train station threaten a “surprise” during the Olympics at Sochi.
The notices say that Russian security officials have been informed of her possible departure from Dagestan, a Russian republic in the restive Caucasus area, earlier this month, and that she may be used for an attack inside the Olympic zone.
Militant groups in the Caucasus are known to use “black widows,” female terrorists so called because some seek to avenge the deaths of their husbands. They considered by security experts to be harder to pick out in a crowd because they do not fit the stereotype of an Islamic militant and because they can easily alter their appearance with clothing and makeup.
The disclosure Monday added to terror fears as the games approach. On Sunday, a video surfaced in which two men from an Islamist militant group threatened to attack the Olympics, warning that “a surprise” is in store for President Vladimir Putin and tourists attending the games.
The men claim responsibility in the video for two suicide bombings last month in the Russian city of Volgograd that killed 34 people. The Olympic torch passed through Volgograd on Monday on its way to Sochi, where the games open Feb. 7.
“That which we will do, that which we have done, is only a little example, a little step,” one the men, from the Islamist organization Anars Al Sunna, says in the hour-long video, released Sunday.
“We’ll have a surprise package for you,” one of them says, addressing Russian officials. “And those tourists that will come to you, for them, too, we have a surprise.”
With less than three weeks to go before the opening ceremony, security in Sochi is already tighter than at most airports, and Putin has vowed to take every step necessary to protect the Olympics.
The video surfaced Sunday as American officials expressed frustration at what they called a lack of cooperation from Russian security officials.
“They’ve now moved 30,000 armed troops to the region. That tells you their level of concern is great,” Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on the CNN program “State of the Union.”
“But we don’t seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the games. I think this needs to change, and it should change soon.”
Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, said on the same program: “I would not go, and I don’t think I would send my family.”
Russia has promised to protect Sochi within a “ring of steel.” The city is packed with metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs and explosive detectors. But groups threatening the Olympics say they will target not just the host city but other areas of Russia.
“I think the threats are real,” Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I think it’s more likely that the attacks would probably happen outside the perimeter, more soft targets, transportation modes, if you will.”
The Obama administration has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for possible U.S. military assistance for Americans inside Sochi in the event of a terror attack, senior U.S. officials told NBC News on Monday.
The military’s European Command has worked up a plan that would rely on military assets already in place — moving warships into the Black Sea, where they routinely operate, and putting transport planes on standby at military bases in Europe.
The plan has not yet been submitted to the State Department or Pentagon, the officials said.
Any U.S. involvement in a military operation in Sochi would require a request from the Russian government to the State Department, then an order from President Barack Obama.
Senior U.S. military officials Monday suggested the likelihood that Putin would ask the U.S. for military help was zero.
The men in the video claim to be from Dagestan, about 1,000 miles from Sochi. Militants see an attack on the Olympics as a chance to humiliate Putin.
The men in the video appear to construct explosive devices and document, step by step, how they planned the Volgograd attacks. They say in a part of the recording directed at Russian officials that they “will continue to kill you and your soldiers.”
“This is for all the Muslim blood that is shed every day around the world, be it in Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, all around the world,” they said. “This will be our revenge.”
Putin said over the weekend that he “will try to make sure that the security measures taken aren’t too intrusive or visible and that they won’t put pressure on the athletes, guests and journalists.”