A spate of terrorist attacks at ski areas in Russia are keying up security concerns ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi, Russia, near the country's contentious borders and fledgling ski industry.
The Associated Press and news outlets in Russia are reporting a police officer dead and six wounded after a gunfight Wednesday near the Mt. Elbrus ski area. Last weekend, masked gunmen attacked a van of tourists near Mt. Elbrus, killing three and injuring two, shortly before an explosive damaged lift equipment and officials found an explosive-packed car in a tourist-heavy area, according to news reports.
The attacks are putting a damper on Olympic preparations as well as President Dimitry Medvedev's aims to spend $15 billion on a string of ski resorts by 2020 in the mountainous Caucasus region, between the Black and Caspian Seas. Officials have said the projects would create more than 100,000 jobs in hotels, airports and ski resorts.
They suggest that mountains like Elbrus, at 18,510 feet high and the tallest peak in Europe but with only 5,000 annual skiers presently, could one day rival Europe's Alps and North America's Rocky Mountains.
The Caucasus mountain range helps form dividing lines between Europe and Asia and between Russia in the North and Arabic lands to the South. While Russia is accustomed to tense relations in the region (with Chechnya, Dagestan and Georgia) security officials said tourists have rarely been targets.
Russia has beefed up security in recent days with police searching for the assailants. But those kinds of ongoing efforts will bring additional costs to what could be an expensive Winter Olympics that some estimate could cost $12 billion in infrastructure projects.
"Terrorism is a global phenomenon and no region is exempt," said a spokesman with the International Olympic Committee. "At the Olympics, security is the responsibility of the local authorities, and we have no doubt that the Russian authorities will be up to the task."
Terrorism cropped up at the Summer Games in Munich in 1972 and Atlanta in 1996, as the international event raises a region's profile. Before the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, officials added extra security measures because of the tragedy in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. "The last thing anyone wants is there to be a terrorist attack when all of the nations are gathered together for such a peaceful event," said Jessica Kunzer, a spokeswoman at Ski Utah in Salt Lake City.
But preventing terrorism around ski resorts is not particularly easy. "A facility has to recognize its resources, and with that, its limitations," said Chad Jones, a spokesman for Big Sky Resort in Montana, which has hosted President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in recent summers.
Big Sky's parent company, Boyne Resorts, hosted four Olympic events at its Cypress Mountain resort during the Vancouver Winter games in 2010. "Resort companies are in the hospitality business, so our scope goes to accommodating the needs of security, but not actually conducting high level security directly."