The opening ceremonies at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are just two weeks away. The usual excitement over the Olympic games has already been overshadowed this year by a growing terrorist threat to those who plan on attending the games.
“These folks over there are not playing, so I think it’s essential for folks that are planning on going over there – you’ve got to take this for serious, for real,” said Homeland Security expert Rick Parker.
International security officials say there hasn’t been a threat of this nature and strength in the history of the Olympic games. Russian security services announced Monday that they may be looking for as many as four “black widows” dispatched to carry out terrorist attacks related to the Winter Olympics.
Security services said those “black widows” include a woman who is believed to be in or near Sochi.
Police said that wanted posters have gone up throughout Sochi of one suspected terrorist, 22-year-old Ruzan Ibragimova, a widow of an Islamic militant killed by Russian forces last year.
Parker echoes what the State Department has been saying for weeks now -- people will be traveling at their own risk. Parker said the winter games are an attractive target for terrorists, and he believes anyone looking for the Olympic experience needs to do their homework and have a strategy in place before they pack their bags.
"If I was an athlete going to the Olympics, security wouldn't get in the way of my dream. I don't know if there's any athlete who wouldn't say the same thing,” said Parker.
Athletes are being forced to focus on much more than just the fine-tuning of their event. A video surfaced online Sunday of an Islamist militant group threatening a surprise attack for those attending the games.
“If you’re not paying attention to the news from Europe, you’re not doing your due diligence. If you’re planning a trip over there, you need to be paying attention,” said Parker.
Many of the people Channel 4 spoke with Monday night said they’re planning to watch the games safely from the comfort of their living room this year.
“Why travel? Stay here. Stay safe," said Jacksonville resident Jimmy Pace. "I wouldn’t go. I feel sorry for the Olympics, but honestly, it’s in the wrong spot. Why did they ever put the Olympics in the middle of a war zone?”
The State Department suggests Olympic travelers avoid carrying large amounts of money or valuables on them during the games. The State department is also recommending travelers take extra precautions and leave copies of their passports, visa’s and travel itinerary in a hotel safe, or with a family member or friend. They are also encouraging people to make sure to keep their cellphones well charged in case of an emergency.
“You need to look at this very seriously, in terms of if something does happen, what are my contingency plans?” said Parker.
The State Department recommends anyone that plans on traveling to Sochi enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It allows people to get security updates and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. Embassy to get in touch with people in the event of an emergency.