At least five European countries’ Olympic committees have received letters in Russian making a “terrorist threat” before the Sochi Games, but Olympic chiefs have insisted they posed no danger.
Despite the assurances, the letters to committees in Italy, Hungary, Germany, Slovenia and Slovakia briefly caused alarm and underlined nervousness over security at the event on which Russian president Vladimir Putin’s legacy may depend.
Suicide bombers killed at least 34 people in a southern city last month, Islamist militants have threatened to attack the Winter Games and security forces are hunting a woman suspected of planning a suicide bombing and of being in Sochi already.
“I am very pleased to inform everyone that both the IOC and the Sochi organising committee … declared after the analysis of the letter that this threat is not real,” Zsigmond Nagy, director of international relations at the Hungarian Olympic Committee, said.
He added: “This person has been sending all kinds of messages to many members of the Olympic family.”
The letter, he said, threatened Hungarian nationals, competitors and officials, saying that “persons attending the Olympic Games might be blown up”.
Officials in Italy, Germany, Slovakia and Slovenia said their national committees had also received threats and all had passed them to police.
The IOC, which is based in Switzerland, moved quickly to ease concern after the first of the letters was received in Budapest. It said it took security very seriously and passed on any credible information to the relevant security services.
The IOC has said it is confident that the Games, opening in Sochi on the shores of the Black Sea on 7 February, will be safe, and Mr Putin has put about 37,000 security personnel on combat alert in the resort and increased security nationwide.
Russia has also been discussing its security operation with the United States, and Mr Putin, who has played a big role in winning and organising the Games, spoke about security at Sochi with president Barack Obama by telephone on Tuesday.
Even so, Moscow has failed to dampen concern that it will be able to guarantee visitors’ and competitors’ safety, despite the most elaborate security preparations for an Olympics.
A militant leader, Doku Umarov, has called for insurgents fighting for an Islamist state in Russia’s North Caucasus to attack Sochi – which lies on the western edge of the Caucasus mountains where the insurgency is focused.
In Sochi security forces are searching for a woman called Ruzanna Ibragimova, 23, who they suspect may be planning a suicide attack.
Some Russian media say Russian forces may also be looking for other would-be suicide bombers known as “Black Widows”, but the reports have not been confirmed.