The Hungarian and Slovenian Olympic Committees both reported receiving threatening letters ahead of the controversial Sochi Winter Olympics, an event which has already raised serious international fears of a terrorist incident. The Hungarian Olympic Committee (HOC) says they received a threat directed against their athletes while they are in Russia for the Games. However, they said they are still committed to attending the event, according to HOC Secretary General Bence Szabo:
The information is true, unfortunately. A letter written in Russian and English was received at the HOC's international e-mail account, threatening the Hungarian delegation to Sochi with terrorist acts.... They also told us we had better stay home …. Obviously the HOC will not make the decision on how seriously to take the threat or, God forbid, to stay away from the Olympics.
HOC Chairman Zsolt Borkai said that the threat was being taken seriously, and that the committee had forwarded the document to the International Olympic Committee and to Sochi organizers. The Italian and Slovenian Olympic Committees also reported receiving written threats.
The letters were reported soon after a new video emerged showing two militants, who said on camera that they were responsible for last month's dual suicide attacks on the Russian city of Volgograd, also made a direct threat on the Olympic Games. Officials were also on the lookout yesterday for a number of "black widows," female extremists whose husbands had carried out suicide strikes or been killed by police and who authorities fear will follow suit. An unprecedented number of threats have been made against the Sochi Games, and with Russia's North Caucasus region so close — an area plagued by unrest and militant activity — the danger has never seemed more real.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is sending 40,000 troops to Sochi to protect the area from attack, and has assured the public that there is no reason to worry. Just yesterday, Russian police killed a senior Islamist militant in a shootout in the North Caucasus. Putin also spoke with President Obama about how to make sure the event is "safe and secure," per Reuters:
A White House statement about the Putin-Obama call said the two leaders talked about how best to advance shared U.S.-Russian interests, "including a safe and secure Sochi Olympics, for which the United States has offered its full assistance. The U.S. military is making two ships in the Black Sea available should American support be required during the Olympics. Washington is also offering American technology used to thwart roadside bombs in places like Afghanistan to boost security during the Olympics.
The conversation will hopefully quell fears from Washington that Russia won't seek American help in securing the Olympics, but some members of the House Homeland Security Committee are not convinced.
Still, the Olympics will have a hard time filling seats as many potential spectators who might be willing to attend the event despite security risks, could still boycott the Games, thanks to Russia's severely anti-gay stance and generally poor human rights record.
Update: Reuters reports Germany, the Slovakia and the U.S. also received threatening letters. The HOC's Director of International Relations Zsigmond Nagy, however, says the notes are a hoax. He told Reuters, "I am very pleased to inform everyone that both the IOC and the Sochi organizing committee ... declared after the analysis of the letter that this threat is not real." He added that the person responsible "has been sending all kinds of messages to many members of the Olympic family."
According to Nagy, IOC officials said the person behind the letters is not in Russia and has sent out hoaxes before.