BIRMINGHAM, Alabama—Unconfirmed reports of the death of Doku Umarov have done little to dampen talk of the terrorist threat at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Last summer, Umarov, the leader of a jihadist group based in the Northern Caucasus, promised to use “maximum force” to derail the Sochi games. Two suicide bombings in December in the Russian city of Volgograd killed 34 people and sent international speculation into overdrive that Umarov’s group, the Caucasus Emirate, might well have the means to make good on the threat.
But last week, Chechnya’s pro-Kremlin president announced that Umarov was killed in a gunfight with security forces. Doubts, however, remain about the reliability of the claim. Putin and Russia’s counterterrorism forces have been silent on the issue, despite the fact that they have the most to gain by touting Umarov’s death.
It matters little, for Umarov’s control over the violent campaign he purports to lead is indirect at best. Umarov has acted more as a figurehead, encouraging loosely affiliated cells to carry out terrorism against Russia, the latest chapter in a lengthy struggle to establish a breakaway, radical Islamist state in the Northern Caucasus.
In fact, soon after the announcement of Umarov’s supposed death, a video surfaced in which armed militants claimed responsibility for the Volgograd blasts on behalf of a new organization in partial fulfillment of Umarov’s anti-Olympics threat. It should be noted that this news also has not been authenticated.
What is significant is that Umarov’s threat and the recent bombings have primed the international community for attacks that may not come.
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