Monday, January 20, 2014

Winter Olympics

Forty-two years ago, 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage were taken hostage by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September.  Elite counter-terrorism units did not exist (even though the Special Air Service (SAS) has existed since 1950 it would not be until the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege in London that they would make their mark as a counter-terrrorist unit).  After the German police negotiations failed, they attempted to rescue the Israeli hostages via air assault and snipers….something the German police were not trained to do in 1972.  The results were all hostages, one German police officer and 5 of the 8 terrorists were killed.  The failure resulted in the formation of the famed GSG9 (Grenz Schutz Gruppe 9).

Forty-two years later, US officials "believe there would be major obstacles to mounting a large-scale rescue effort as Russia has historically been reluctant to allow foreign military forces – especially those of the US – on Russian territory, according to a source familiar with Obama administration discussions."--The Guardian

The 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia located on the Black Sea coast near the border between Georgia/Abkhazia and Russia. Sochi is the largest Russian resort city and one of the very few places in Russia with a subtropical climate, with warm to hot summers and mild winters.  The irony of hosting the Winter Olympics in the one place in Russia where it DOESN'T snow has not been lost on the world.

What seems to have been minimized is what a particularly dangerous region this tends to be.  Let's begin with Abkhazia.

Abkhazia is a disputed territory on the eastern coast of the Black Sea and southwestern flank of the Caucaus.  Abkhazia considers itself independent, a status recognized by Russia but disputed by Georgia (and a majority of the world governments) consider is part of their republic (albeit autonomous).  On Jan 17, 2014 the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) published the following from the Abkhazia board meeting, "The main directions of foreign policy of Abkhazia as it was said by the President of the Republic of Abkhazia is strengthening of strategic partnership with the Russian Federation and progress of wide international recognition of independence of the Republic of Abkhazia."--Ministry of Affairs Board Meeting

The potential for a clash between Georgia and Abkhazia could occur during the Winter Olympics as could the uprising in the Ukraine that has been waging since nov 21st.  "The events (on Sunday) come in the wake of weeks of public protests after Yanukovych's decision in November to spurn a planned trade deal with the European Union and turn toward Russia instead."--CNN

The Ukraine forms the northern shore of the Black Sea.  According CNN, Caitlin Hayden (spokeswoman for the National Security Council) said, "The increasing tension in Ukraine is a direct consequence of the government failing to acknowledge the legitimate grievances of its people. Instead, it has moved to weaken the foundations of Ukraine's democracy by criminalizing peaceful protest and stripping civil society and political opponents of key democratic protections under the law"

Two areas in the region have reasons to make trouble at the Winter Olympics but there is a third region that many have forgotten about. About 400 miles to the east of Sochi is Chechnya.  There is a long a violent history between Russia and Chechnya.

During Czarist times, the Nakh and Malkh tribes of the region wanted to be free from Russian (which was Christian at the time) and turned to Islam as its liberating ideology.  The Ottomans ended-up betraying the rebellion which was led by Mansur Ushurma, a Chechen Naqshbandi (Sufi) sheikh to the Russians who excited him in 1794. The resistance of the Nakh tribes never ended and was a fertile ground for a new Muslim-Avar commander Imam Shamil, who fought against the Russians from 1834 until 1859. The leader who took over for Shamil was Chechen Boysangur Benoiski who broke through the siege and continued to fight Russia in full scale warfare for another 2 years until he was captured and killed by Russians.

By 1860s, Russia switched to a policy of deporting the Nakh which did weaken but not completely end the resistance.  Under the Soviet Union, Chechnya did not fare much better.  Some Chechens rose up against Soviet rule during the 1940s, resulting in the deportation of the entire ethnic Chechen and Ingush populations to what is now Kazakhstan and Siberia in 1944 near the end of World War II where over 60% of Chechen and Ingush populations perished. The Chechens were allowed to return after 1956 but found many Russian immigrants on their lands. Struggles between Chechnya and Russia up until today.

The First Chechen War took place over a two-year period that lasted from 1994 to 1996, when Russian forces attempted to regain control over Chechnya, which had declared independence in November 1991. Despite overwhelming numerical superiority in men, weaponry, and air support, the Russian forces were unable to establish effective permanent control over the mountainous area due to numerous successful Chechen guerrilla raids.--Wikipedia

The War of Dagestan began on 7 August 1999, during which the Islamic International Brigade (IIPB) began an unsuccessful incursion into the neighbouring Russian republic of Dagestan in favor of the Shura of Dagestan which sought independence from Russia. In September, a series of apartment bombs that killed around 300 people in several Russian cities, including Moscow, were blamed on the Chechen separatists. 

In response to the bombings, a prolonged air campaign of retaliatory strikes against the Ichkerian regime and a ground offensive that began in October 1999 marked the beginning of the Second Chechen War. Much better organized and planned than the first Chechen War, the Russian military took control over most regions. 

In October 2002, 40–50 Chechen rebels seized a Moscow theater and took about 900 civilians hostage. The crisis ended with a large death toll mostly due to an unknown aerosol pumped throughout the building by Russian special forces to incapacitate the people inside. In September 2004, separatist rebels occupied a school in the town of Beslan, North Ossetia, demanding recognition of the independence of Chechnya and a Russian withdrawal. 1,100 people (including 777 children) were taken hostage. The attack lasted three days, resulting in the deaths of over 331 people, including 186 children. 

Russia installed a pro-Moscow government in 2003 which reintegrated  Chechnya with Russia.  In April 2009, Russia ended its counter-terrorism operation and pulled out the bulk of its army.

Sorry for the long history lesson but it was necessary to set-up the emergence of this guy.

That's Doku Umarov the Chechen jihadist leader blamed for the two suicide bombings in Volgograd in Russia over Christmas.  Canadian counter-terrorism agencies have dubbed him the "Russian Osama bin Laden" and said he poses the greatest terrorism threat for the Sochi games.  According the the Daily Mail, "The report warns: ‘Doku Khamaiovich Umarov is a fervent Islamist who espouses AQ’s [Al Qaeda’s] ideology of global jihad...His view that Israeli, US and UK interests are legitimate targets raises concerns that any Westerners could be targeted."

Checnhya, Abkhazia, and Ukraine all have a long history of violence and the Winter Games will provide over 15,000 visitors from around the world as potential targets for terrorists.  Recognizing this threat, Vladmir Putin has ordered over 40,000 troops into Sochi and surrounding areas to provide security.  From all accounts, the Russians are not playing around and security is quite intense.

Yet despite these precautions, this video of the two suicide bombers from Volgograd is up on CNN.  It is easy to over-estimate the ability for a potential terrorist attack but in this part of the world, it seems almost too likely.

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