Numbers tell the depth of Olympics terror threat

The terror threat at the Sochi Games can be measured in numbers.

7: The minimum number of terror groups active in the area. Most experts agree the total number is hard to pin down. Generally speaking, the organizations sprang from separatist groups in Chechnya and Dagestan that battled for independence from Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some of those groups later morphed into radical Islamic terror organizations. The U.S. State Department has identified one, the Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade, as having links to al Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based terrorist group known as AQAP. Other groups include the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment, the Riyadus-Salikhin, the Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs, the Yarmuk Jamaat, the Ingush Jamaat and Shariah Jamaat. Of those, experts note that Riyadus-Salikhin is most often associated with suicide bombers.

515: The driving distance from Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, to Sochi, where this year’s Winter Olympic Games are being held. That’s a drive similar to Sacramento, Calif., to Boise, Idaho, but it’s a road that travels centuries of hatred. Tribes have been fighting since the 17th century against Russian rule. In 1944, Joseph Stalin expelled the entire ethnic Chechen population to Kazakhstan, where an estimated 60 percent died. They were allowed to return to Chechnya after Stalin’s death.

602: The distance from Makhachkala, Dagestan, to Sochi, about the distance from Denver to Kansas City. That road reaches into the heart of the current terror threat. Dagestan is where the “black widow” suicide bombers come from. While the terrorists here first reached the world stage while joining those from Chechnya, it’s the Dagestani groups, created in the harsh Russian response to Chechen rebel incursions into Dagestan, that have vowed to disrupt the Games.

13: The number of Muslim clerics murdered in and around Dagestan since June 2010, in a war that pits Islamist extremists against more moderate Muslim followers. Experts aren’t sure if the killings were warnings or a power play. Several of those murdered vocally opposed violence, though at least one was a proponent. Some died in their mosques, gunned down along with worshippers. Others died at home or on the streets. One died with his bodyguards, who also were killed.

800: The number of police and police department employees murdered in Dagestan since 2011 in their piece of the war on terror. Henry Plater-Zyberk, an expert on extremism in the area with the Prague Security Studies Institute, noted that in addition to those killed, thousands of other police have been injured. There were 188 officers killed in 2011. He notes that the pace of killings appears to have quickened.

10,000: The number of Russian army special forces troops now patrolling the Caucasus Mountains near the Olympic venues. They are part of a security force of an estimated 100,000 for the Olympics. Plater-Zyberk says that other Russian state organizations have their own special forces units that could be deployed if needed.

150,000: The estimated number who died during the two wars in Chechnya, fought in 1994-1996 and 1999-2006. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the region.

57.8 billion: The number of rubles Russia is spending on security for the games. That equates to about $2 billion.

50 billion: The total dollar cost of staging the games in Sochi. Plater-Zyberk says this number is worth noting because it explains part of the Russian strategy of pacifying the region by bringing development, and because it shows the sheer scale of the construction project that was undertaken. That construction relied on workers from the region, including many from Dagestan and Chechnya. That’s led to one persistent worry: that “something very nasty” was built into the venue, timed to go off while the world watches.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader