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Russians raise doubts about suspected ‘black widow’ suicide bomber

A photo of a police leaflet seen in a Sochi hotel on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, shows Ruzanna Ibragimova and states that she is at large in the city of Sochi as Russian security officials are hunting down three potential female suicide bombers.

Natalya Vasilyeva/AP

Her thin face, framed by a pink hijab, became a symbol of the fears about the security of the Sochi Games: Ruzana Ibragimova, the suspected suicide bomber, on the loose somewhere in the Olympic city.

The visage of the 22-year-old Dagestani woman, believed to be a "black widow" intent on avenging her husband's earlier death at the hands of Russian security forces, was on warning notices distributed in Sochi less than two weeks before the Games. "Terrorists may be among us now," the leaflets read. Ms. Ibragimova was believed to be intent on detonating a suicide bomb some time during the Winter Olympics, which run until Feb. 23.

Five days into the Olympics, Russia's Federal Security Service, better known as the FSB, admit Ms. Ibragimova still has not been found.

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But they also say she may never have been in Sochi at all.

"We still have not found her," Senior Lieutenant Sergei Polukhin of the Sochi FSB told The Moscow Times in a rare interview. The newspaper described Lieutenant Polukhin as being "oddly forthcoming" about the case.

Lieutenant Polukhin added that Ms. Ibragimova "may never have left Dagestan in the first place."

The revelation that Ms. Ibragimova may never have been in Sochi will likely come as a relief to spectators and athletes here. Reports that there were as many as three "black widows" inside Sochi and planning to strike had created a low-level panic ahead of the Games that spooked some competitors - Canada's Sidney Crosby was among those who admitted concern - and likely contributed to the lower-than-expected crowds at events thus far.

The fact they had not been found was still whispered about, even after the safe and successful start of the Olympics.

The warnings about Ms. Ibragimova and her possible accomplices followed a pair of December suicide bombings in the city of Volgograd - 800 kilometres northeast of Sochi - that killed 34 people. In the wake of those attacks, Islamist militants posted a video warning they had a "present" waiting for Russian President Vladimir Putin and anyone who attended the Sochi Olympics.

But the level of concern now appears to have receded. The Moscow Times said Lieutenant Polukhin told the paper the FSB "is constantly monitoring the situation and there is no immediate threat."

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Sochi was viewed by many as a dangerous place to host the Winter Olympics, given its proximity to regions like Chechnya and Dagestan that are home to decades-old insurgengies against Russian rule. Those conflicts have bred violent jihadi groups that condone attacks on civilian targets, including suicide bombings and mass hostage takings.

But the Games have thus far passed without incident, with Russian security forces receiving praise for their professional but largely unobtrusive style. (Most of the security is concentrated on the airports, train stations and the two roads into the city - places the visiting athletes and spectators only briefly see.)

Caucasus Emirate, an umbrella Islamist group that had vowed to attack Sochi during the Olympics, seemed to admit defeat this week. Instead of more threats, the group used its website this week to suggest that followers pray for an earthquake to disrupt the Games.

@markmackinnon

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About the Author
Senior International Correspondent

Mark MacKinnon is currently based in London, where he is The Globe and Mail's Senior International Correspondent. In that posting he has reported on the Syrian refugee crisis, the rise of Islamic State, the war in eastern Ukraine and Scotland's independence referendum.Mark recently spent five years as the newspaper's Beijing correspondent. More

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