Air carriers flying to Winter Olympics host Russia were warned today to watch for toothpaste tubes containing materials that could be turned into a bomb, a U.S. law enforcement official said.
The official declined to elaborate on the intelligence that sparked the warning, which was sent to U.S. and foreign airlines, just two days before the start of the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia.
Security at Sochi is tight in response to threats of terror strikes by Islamic militants. The Black Sea city is just a few hundred miles from the North Caucasus region, where Russia has been battling Islamic extremists.
The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the warning and asked for anonymity. It was reported earlier by ABC News.
In a statement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the agency “regularly shares relevant information with domestic and international partners, including those associated with international events such as the Sochi Olympics.”
“We are not aware of a specific threat to the homeland at this time,” the DHS said in the statement. “This routine communication is an important part of our commitment to making sure we meet that priority.”
Delta Air Lines Inc. is alone among the major U.S. carriers in serving Russia, with one daily Moscow flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Spokesmen for Delta, American Airlines and United Airlines declined to discuss security issues, as is customary in the industry.
The Transportation Security Administration, which is part of DHS, restricts the size of carry-on containers of gels and liquids, including toothpaste tubes, to no more than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters). The limit doesn’t apply to checked bags, which are scanned by explosives detection machines.
Sochi, which lies west of the Caucasus Mountains, borders one of the most economically distressed regions of Russia, stretching from Chechnya to Dagestan. A separatist movement in Chechnya grew into an Islamist insurgency that took its fight into neighboring provinces and which Russia has struggled to suppress.
Three suicide attacks last year rocked Volgograd, about halfway between Moscow and Sochi. Russian security forces staged a raid in Dagestan earlier today, killing the leader of an extremist group suspected in two of the attacks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to keep Sochi safe by locking down the seaside resort city of about 345,000, deploying 40,000 troops and state of-the-art equipment.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said today that the U.S. has 140 people, including FBI agents, Homeland security personnel and the military working with the Russians on security.
The Olympics in Sochi will be as “safe as you can make any large public event in a place where obviously we all know there have been some threats of late,” Kerry said in an interview on CNN. “We feel that everything has been done that can be done to try to guarantee people safety and security.”
As many as 10,000 Americans are expected to visit the Black Sea resort for the games, according to four Obama administration officials who briefed reporters on Jan. 24 on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. has warned athletes and fans planning to attend the games to be aware of recent terrorist threats from Islamic militants, and the Pentagon has said it’s prepared to evacuate Americans from Russia if needed.
President Barack Obama was briefed yesterday on security and support for U.S. athletes and “he was assured by his team that they are taking all appropriate steps regarding the safety of Americans,” the White House said in a statement.
The U.S. also has moved two ships, the USS Mount Whitney and the USS Taylor into the Black Sea over the past two days to be ready to assist in any security operations or evacuations in the event of a terrorist attack.
To contact the reporter on this story: Del Quentin Wilber in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org