WASHINGTON (AP/WJLA) - Americans planning to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, should be vigilant about their security due to potential terrorist threats, crime and uncertain medical care, the State Department advised Friday.
J.D. Gordon of "Protect America Today" says that just 250 miles from where American athletes will perform in the Olympics lies Chechnya - a hotbed for Islamic terror.
"I'm very concerned with security for Sochi," he says. "If you look at it, it's in the North Caucuses. The North Caucuses is a warzone."
Close to where athletes will be executing triple axel jumps and defying gravity on skis, six bodies were found on Thursday and Friday in four different vehicles - some rigged to explode.
"I think they're trying to make a point," says Gordon, who adds that everything away from Olympic venues is vulnerable. For instance, the Volgograd Train station, where a bombing recently killed 24.
And with most of Russia's police dispatched to Sochi, there are concerns as to who will be minding Moscow and St. Petersburg airports. This is why in part the State Department is warning travelers and athletes alike to use caution when using public transportation.
"I think these new train stations around Sochi will be a soft target," says Rep. Michael McCaul.
The State Department is also warning travelers to buy private medical evacuation insurance, and says the medical system is untested for the volume of visitors expected.
However, Russia's top Olympic official assures that security has already undergone a thorough review in terms of screening and security.
In the travel alert, the department said it was not aware of specific threats to U.S. interests related to the Games that begin next month. But it said large events like the Olympics are "an attractive target for terrorists" and Americans should be aware of their surroundings and take common-sense precautions to stay safe, notably on public transport.
A group designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization, the Caucasus Emirate, has called for attacks on the Olympics, it said. Although the group's ability to strike the Games is not clear, the alert noted that the group has in the past been responsible for large-scale attacks on targets including a ski resort, a metro system, a high-speed rail, an airport and a theater.
The alert pointed out that Russia has vowed to take appropriate security measures to protect athletes, spectators and infrastructure. On Thursday in Washington, FBI Director James Comey said the Russians are devoting substantial resources and effort to securing the Olympics.
"We have been in regular communication - including me personally - with their security organizations to make sure we're coordinating well. I think that we are," Comey told reporters in Washington. "We've improved our information sharing on counterterrorism and it's important. Securing any Olympics is an enormous task. It's particularly challenging in Sochi because of its proximity to areas of unrest and sources of the terrorist threat. The Russian government understands the threat and is devoting the resources to address it."
Comey said the FBI would deploy "at least a couple dozen people in Moscow and maybe a smaller number but still a dozen or more people of different specialties" in Sochi.
It also warned Americans to be wary of common criminal activity, which tends to rise at most large gatherings around the world.
The alert also advised lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to review the State Department's LGBT travel information page if they plan to visit Sochi for the Games, noting that Russia has in place a law that bans the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors. It said authorities have been vague about defining "propaganda" and that the law applies to foreigners. A conviction on the charge could result in a fine, a jail term and deportation.