The U.S. is banning all liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on luggage on flights between the U.S. and Russia, tightening security a day before the Winter Olympics open in Sochi.
The new restrictions follow yesterday’s advisory from the U.S. government that warned airlines of the possibility that terrorists might hide bomb-making material in toothpaste tubes that could be assembled into an explosive device during the flight or later.
“The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has directed that no liquids, gels, aerosols and powders of any size be permitted on board flights between the United States and the Russian Federation in any passenger cabin of service,” Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL), the only major U.S. carrier with regular service to Russia, said today on its website. The prohibition doesn’t apply to checked luggage.
Security at Sochi is tight in response to threats of terror strikes by Islamic militants. The Black Sea resort is just a few hundred miles from the North Caucasus region where Russia has been battling Islamic extremists.
President Barack Obama said in an interview with NBC to be broadcast tonight that the U.S. is working with Russia on security for the games, which open tomorrow.
“The Russians have an enormous stake, obviously, in preventing any kind of terrorist act or violence at these venues,” Obama said. “We’re in constant communications with them, both at the law enforcement level, at the military level, at the intelligence levels, and it’s not untypical of every Olympics, whether it’s in Canada or China or anyplace else.”
NBC is broadcasting the games and excerpts of Obama’s interview, recorded earlier today, were released by the network.
There was no indication from the U.S. Homeland Security Department of a specific threat.
“Our security posture, which at times includes a number of measures both seen and unseen, will continue to respond and appropriately adapt to protect the American people from an ever evolving threat picture,” the agency said in a statement.
Representative Peter King, chairman of the House subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence, said the risk is “credible” and the TSA’s ban is justified.
“This is a whole new type threat,” the New York Republican said in a telephone interview. “We were not aware prior to this and did not believe that you could have a significant amount of explosives in toothpastes or cosmetics. There is a question of how well it can be detected.”
Three carriers operate a total of five daily departures from the U.S. to Russia each day, according to Houston-based FlightAware, an industry data tracker.
Atlanta-based Delta has one daily departure to Moscow from John F. Kennedy International Airport, and OAO Aeroflot (AFLT) has one flight each from New York, Miami and Los Angeles. Singapore Airlines Ltd. (SIA) flies to Moscow from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, FlightAware Operations Vice President Mark Duell said in a telephone interview. OAO Transaero lists three flights weekly from New York.
Morgan Durrant, a spokesman for Delta, said he couldn’t comment beyond what is posted on the company’s website.
United Continental Holdings Inc. (UAL), which is based in Chicago, also has been running Olympic charters to Sochi from New Jersey’s Liberty Airport, with four flights through yesterday since Jan. 25, Duell said.
Sochi lies west of the Caucasus Mountains, bordering one of Russia’s most economically distressed regions stretching from Chechnya to Dagestan. A separatist movement in Chechnya grew into an Islamist insurgency that spilled into nearby 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 yesterday, killing the leader of an extremist group suspected in two of the attacks.
The U.S. has warned athletes and fans planning to attend the Olympics 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.