Security at the Sochi Winter Olympics suddenly intensified on Thursday after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned airlines that explosives hidden in toothpaste tubes could be smuggled into Russia.
The warning came late Wednesday, two days before the start of the Games, and were directed at airlines that have flights between the United States and Russia, such as Delta Airlines. The warning came from a law enforcement official who was speaking on condition of anonymity.
There was no information as to what triggered the warning.
The Department of Homeland Security said it was not aware of any “specific threat,” but added that it “regularly shares information with domestic and international partners, including those associated with international events such as the Sochi Olympics.”
The Russian government was quick on Thursday to downplay the warning about possible explosives. At an Olympics press conference in Sochi, deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak said twice that he would personally guarantee the safety of anyone attending the Olympic Games and that concerns over fears of terrorism are overstated.
“Terrorism is always a global concern in any place on the planet,” Mr. Kozak said. “The concern about Sochi and Russia is a little too much. The level of fear should be lower. The threat in Sochi is no worse than in New York, Washington or Boston.”
He would not comment on the reports about explosives possibly hidden in toothpaste tubes put about flights headed to Russia.
In Krasnaya Polyana, the Games’ alpine centre, about 45 kilometres from the Black Sea, security was especially tight, leading to long transportation delays.
Buses and other vehicles shuttling journalists and Olympic employees between alpine racing sites were thoroughly checked by police. Sniffer dogs went through vehicles and security guards equipped with mirrors on poles checked the undersides of buses. The doors of buses were sealed with tape before they left for their destination; a broken seal would reveal that the door had been opened before it reached its destination.
Russian forces have been on high alert since December, when suicide bombers killed 34 people in the Russian city of Volograd, about 600 kilometres northeast of Sochi. Since then, there have been fears of an attack on the Sochi Olympics.
Two American warships are patrolling the Black Sea near Sochi and the police presence in at the mountain and coastal Olympic sites is ubiquitous. The American warning came a month after Russian officials banned passengers from taking any liquids on planes headed to Sochi.