House Homeland Security Chair: Fears of More Black Widow Bombers Hiding in Sochi
The Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee arrived in Sochi, Russia today where he told ABC News he's concerned that more "black widow" suicide bombers could already be within the Olympic security perimeter, in addition to the one Russian forces are already chasing.
"What I'm most concerned about in this particular case is that she broke through the perimeter and got into Sochi," Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said today in an exclusive interview. "I don't know how many more 'black widows' could be within the perimeter before this 'ring of steel' went up. So I think that's one of the great concerns from the security standpoint – not only how many there were here before the 'ring of steel,' but how many could potentially penetrate and get in after?'"
The term black widow refers to female suicide bombers, generally from the violent Islamist movement in the North Caucasus, who launch their attacks after their husbands have been killed in the insurgency. Monday ABC News reported that Russian authorities had begun an urgent search in Sochi for a 22-year-old woman from nearby Dagestan they said had been married to a militant who was reportedly killed in a shoot-out with Russian forces last year.
While acknowledging the possible threat of other black widows already in Sochi, McCaul said that based on meetings he has had with security officials, he's convinced the Russian authorities have done everything they can to physically protect the Games.
Another threat, he said however, comes from attackers who wouldn't target the Games themselves to start with.
"I think the greatest vulnerability is a soft target that could be hit… that would take place outside of this perimeter," McCaul said. "When I talked to security officials, they see that as the greatest risk and the greatest vulnerability. Because as long as [terrorists] can hit somewhere close, it's still a victory in their mind."
The city of Volgograd, Russia, a major transit hub in the region 400 miles from Sochi, has been racked with three suicide bombings since October that have killed dozens – a stark reminder of the damage an attack on a soft target can do.
McCaul said that when it comes to the security operation itself, Russian authorities are cooperating with the U.S. to make the Games as safe as possible, but they may not be sharing as much intelligence as the Americans would like.
"That's something that I talked to officials about to try and strengthen that," he said. "But in terms of actual physical security, I think they've done a good job."
ABC News' Lee Ferran contributed to this report.