Published January 23, 2014
Rep. William Keating said Wednesday Americans traveling to Sochi for the Winter Olympic Games should be safe if they take precautions, even as some athletes were telling their loved ones to stay home because of potential terrorist threats.
The Massachusetts Democrat, just back from a trip to Sochi that included a tour of safety measures undertaken by the Russian government at the site of the Olympics, voiced concern about the possibility of a terror attack at the Games, which begin Feb. 7.
"When there's three...suicide bombing attempts...you know there's going to be those efforts," Keating told reporters at Boston's Logan International Airport. "If someone wants to go there I think your chances of being secure and safe are enhanced greatly by being vigilant, by listening to what the experts, our experts, our countries' experts are saying and adhering to that."
Keating said the Russian government will be deploying a security force of 100,000 people, including 40,000 police and 30,000 active military personnel, along with drones and six anti-missile systems, The Boston Globe reported.
He expressed concern that terrorists may have embedded people or explosives in Sochi before security forces imposed a strict security zone that limited access to the Olympic areas. He also said that terror groups seeking to establish an independent Islamic state in Russia's North Caucasus could hit targets outside the security zones, The Globe reported.
“These terrorists can move it out from areas that are less secure, and make a statement there,” he told reporters, adding that possible attacks by "lone wolf" terrorists are also a concern.
Keating and other members of Congress have expressed serious concerns about the safety of Americans in Sochi and frustration with Russian cooperation. The U.S. State Department has advised Americans at the Olympics to stay vigilant about security because of not only potential terrorist threats but crime and uncertain medical care.
"Russia is not great at sharing information with the United States,” Keating said. “We’re willing to do everything we can...but it's their country. When you do it with the US and Russia there’s room for improvement."
Meanwhile, Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, who will skate for Team USA next month, said Wednesday that his wife and two young children won't be traveling to Russia for the Winter Games. The long trip is part of the reason, but recent news about terroristic threats made the decision "a little bit easier."
Suter said he's confident in USA Hockey and International Olympic Committee officials to keep the event safe, but anxiety is human nature.
"You hear all these stories about different things, and it's definitely a concern," Suter said. "But at the same time, I feel that the U.S. government and the Russian government is going to do everything in their power to protect us."
Speedskater Tucker Fredricks has asked his family to stay home in Wisconsin next month because of security concerns. His parents traveled to Turin in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010 to watch him, but they'll rely on television this time so their son can focus on the competition and not worry about their well-being.
And Suter's friend and Wild forward Zach Parise, who will also play for the U.S. team, advised his parents and relatives not to come. His wife recently gave birth to twins, so travel for them was already impractical. But his supporters who went to Vancouver in 2010 won't be in attendance this time.
"It's nerve-wracking, that's for sure. I guess there's no way around it," Parise said, adding: "I watch the news. I see that stuff going on. It's not very comforting."
For other countries, too. Vancouver Canucks teammates Roberto Luongo (Canada) and Daniel Sedin (Sweden) each said safety is the reason their families won't be traveling to Russia.
President Obama offered Russian President Vladimir Putin the full security assistance of the U.S. Tuesday as concerns continue to mount over terror threats at next month’s games.
There was no immediate indication of Putin's response to Obama's offer, but officials said the two countries were also involved in “exploratory discussions” to use high-tech American equipment to help secure the games.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.