SOCHI, Russia — The United States Olympic team and at least five other national delegations have received messages making terrorist threats ahead of the Winter Games, adding to mounting security fears two weeks before competition begins.
The International Olympic Committee told NBC News on Wednesday that it did not consider the threat credible and said that it appeared to be “a random message from a member of the public.”
The U.S. Olympic Committee received an email in broken English warning the Americans not to attend the games, which formally begin Feb. 7 in the Russian resort of Sochi. The Olympic organizing committees of Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia also reported getting threats.
“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,” Zsigmond Nagy, an official of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, told Reuters.
“This person has been sending all kinds of messages to many members of the Olympic family,” he said.
Nagy quoted IOC officials as saying the messages were sent from outside Russia by someone who had carried out previous hoaxes.
The threats arrived as Russian security forces were hunting for at least five suspected terrorists who may be plotting attacks against the Olympic torch relay or the games themselves, according to notices posted in Sochi.
The Hungarian Olympic Committee told NBC News that the message, written in English, said that the lives of the Hungarian team and the Hungarian people were in danger in Sochi.
The German team described the email as a “terror warning” with words to the effect of “be careful out there in Sochi.” The Italian Olympic Committee described the email as containing “terrorist threats.”
Russia has vowed to make the games the safest ever, and President Vladimir Putin has effectively sealed off a 1,500-square-mile zone around Sochi in what has become known as the “ring of steel.”
Besides more than 40,000 Russian security officers, the zone is protected by special forces, ultra-sensitive sonar equipment, monitoring drones and patrol boats.
Russia’s concern is the volatile Caucasus region, several hundred miles east of Sochi, where Russia has been fighting a simmering Islamist insurgency, and where suspected militants are believed to have an eye on humiliating Putin by disrupting the games.
In the Caucasus republic of Dagestan, a wanted woman was killed Saturday by Russian forces, NBC News confirmed. Other suspected militants have been killed in the region in recent days, and Russian operations there continue.
But wanted posters seen in Sochi, some posted at hotels, suggest Russian forces are looking for at least five other people, including three women known as “black widows” who are suspected would-be suicide bombers.
“Black widows,” so named because many of them have been spurred to violence to avenge the deaths of their husbands, have been involved in some of Russia’s most notorious terrorist attacks over the past decade.
The United States is considering sharing with Russia sophisticated electronic devices capable of sniffing out remote-controlled bombs, senior U.S. military officials told NBC News on Tuesday.
The idea was brought up by the Russians on Tuesday at a high-level meeting in Brussels, Belgium, the officials said.
President Barack Obama also spoke with Putin by phone on Tuesday and pledged the full help of the United States in protecting the games.