(Photo: Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko)
Russia is on a high security alert in preparation for the upcoming Olympic Winter Games after six bodies and bombs were discovered in the country's southern Stavropol region on Wednesday.
The six bodies were discovered in four separate vehicles in two districts in the Pyatigorsk area of Stavropol. Each body had gunshot wounds, and unidentified explosive devices were found near three of the vehicles. The Stavropol region sits as a gateway to the country's volatile North Caucasus region where unpredictable Islamic terrorist groups reside.
Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for Russia's main investigative agency, said in a statement Thursday that no motive had been uncovered in the mysterious shootings, and Federal Security Service officers had been added to research the investigation, which is now being described as a counter-terrorist operation. The Associated Press notes that the shootings of the six men, some of whom were taxi drivers, are more typical of criminal or gang activity, but the discovery of the bombs led investigators to think Islamic insurgents may be involved.
Three of the six corpses have been identified; two of the men were taxi drivers and the third assembled furniture while also working part-time as a cab driver. One local newspaper suggests the recent attack was not a result of criminal activity but rather a planned terrorist attack, as the bombs were fashioned as booby-traps, meant to detonate when police approached the vehicles to investigate the bodies sitting inside.
Wednesday's alarming discovery comes weeks after three deadly bombings rocked two of Russia's southern cities in a short period of four days, killing 34. Two of the attacks took place in the city of Volgograd by suicide bombers, and the third involved a car explosion in Pyatigorsk.
Following these attacks in late December, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country would be taking every measure necessary to ensure the safety of participants and fans at the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Sochi is about 170 miles west of Pyatigorsk.
"I am certain that we will fiercely and consistently continue the fight against terrorists until their complete annihilation," Putin said, according to Russian news agencies.
Russia's International Olympic Committee also released a statement saying that it was "confident" Russia would remain safe for the games in spite of the attacks. "I am certain that everything will be done to ensure the security of the athletes and all the participants of the Olympic Games," IOC president Thomas Bach said in December.
The U.S. has also pledged its aid to Russia in securing Sochi for the games, which begin in February. "The U.S. government has offered our full support to the Russian government in security preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games, and we would welcome the opportunity for closer cooperation for the safety of the athletes, spectators, and other participants,'' National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement in December.