Russian authorities have announced they are currently hunting as many as four female terrorists known as "black widows" who are possibly plotting to attack the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in early February.
Last week, police in Sochi dispersed "Wanted" flyers warning local hotels of one of the women, 22-year-old Ruzana Ibragimova, the wife of an Islamic militant killed by Russian security forces in 2013. The young widow reportedly left her home in Dagestan, located in the volatile Caucasus area, sometime last month and authorities have received information that she has been dispatched by a terrorist group to carry out an attack in Sochi.
The "Wanted" posters describe Ibragimova, who also goes by the name Salima, as having a 4-inch long scar across her left cheek, a limp in her right leg and a left arm that does not bend at the elbow. The flier adds that the woman may be part of "a terrorist act within the 2014 Olympic region."
Female terrorists from the Caucasus are often described as "black widows" because some seek to avenge the deaths of their husbands who may have been killed by Russia's security forces during clashes with Chechen separatists. They are considered to be dangerous because they are able to use hair and makeup to disguise themselves from authorities, and they do not fit the typical profile of an Islamic militant.
Along with warnings of the "black widows," there have been additional terrorist threats to the Olympic area that have U.S. congressmen concerned. The Caucasus-based militant group Vilayat Dagestan posted a video on Sunday threatening terrorist attacks at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games. In the video, two men hold machine guns as they tell the camera their group has "prepared a present for you and all tourists who'll come over."
"If you will hold the Olympics, you'll get a present from us for the Muslim blood that's been spilled," one of the men continues. The video was reportedly recorded before the deadly suicide bombings in Volgograd in late December that killed 34, and the two men in the video take responsibility for being the suicide bombers who executed the tragic attack.
In spite of these recent terrorist threats, Russian President Vladimir Putin has assured tourists and Olympic athletes that they will be safe during the upcoming competitions, saying he and the country's security authorities will "do our best" to prevent terrorist attacks.
"We have a perfect understanding of the scope of the threat and how to deal with it and how to prevent it," Putin said in an interview broadcast Sunday, according to the Los Angeles Times. "I hope that our law enforcement agencies will deal with it with honor and dignity, the way it was during other major sports and political events."
Putin added that Russia "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," but that "at the same time, we will do our best to ensure that these measures are efficient."
Still, some American politicians have voiced their concern over Olympic security. U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN recently that "I would not go, and I don't think I would send my family."
Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, added to CNN that although Russia has deployed thousands of armed troops into the Olympic region, Russia has still failed to provide the U.S. with important information regarding the safety of their athletes.
"Their level of concern is great, 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," Rogers said.
Senior U.S. officials told NBC News on Monday that President Obama has asked the Pentagon to approve security plans for military assistance of Americans at the Winter Games, should a terrorist attack occur. The plans have reportedly been created by the military's European Command but have yet to be approved by the State Department or Pentagon.