MOSCOW, January 9 (RIA Novosti) – Russian security forces have launched an anti-terrorism sweep in response to the discovery of an explosive device and an unexplained series of deaths across a southern province near Sochi, which is hosting the Winter Olympics next month.
A source in the Stavropol Territory government told RIA Novosti late Wednesday that anti-terrorism operations are underway in two districts in the province.
The Interior Ministry said that a car containing the body of an unidentified individual exploded as police approached it during one incident Wednesday in Stavropol Territory.
The bodies of three men and explosive material were discovered in a car in the same area Thursday, Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said Thursday.
A further two bodies were discovered Wednesday in other vehicles in the Stavropol Territory.
Tabloid website LifeNews, which has close links to Russia’s security services, identified Anzor Margushev, 33; Vadim Shogenov, 25; and Artur Margushev, 24, as chief suspects behind the series of killings.
All three suspects are from the Russian North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, according to LifeNews.
An anonymous security source said that two taxi drivers and a furniture fitter were among the dead. The precise circumstances of the deaths were unclear, but officials suggested that all five men had been murdered.
A series of terrorist attacks in the southern city of Volgograd, which is about 900 kilometers drive from Sochi, have frayed nerves among security officials in recent months as Russia prepares to host the high-profile Winter Games due to begin on February 7.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Volgograd, but they are believed to be the work of Islamic militants from Russia’s troubled North Caucasus region.
Doku Umarov, a figurehead for Islamic militancy in the North Caucasus wanted on terrorism charges by both Russia and the United States, called on his followers to target the Sochi Games in an address last year.
A large operation involving over 30,000 security officials was initiated Tuesday to protect the area around the Olympic sites in Sochi.
Updated with new death toll, information on possible suspects and background