Professor on keeping the Olympics safe

Grand Valley State University Professor Jonathon White teaches a class about terrorism. (Jan. 21, 2014)

ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) – Sixteen days from the start of the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, there is already an intense search for five suspects possibly plotting to attack the games and the Olympic torch relay.

Terrorism expert Jonathan White put the looming threats in Russia into perspective for his class at Grand Valley State University.

“Any small group of people who have access to destructive technology and have the ability to travel, for the first time in history, can wage war against a country,” White said.

An expert on terrorism with an extensive background in radicalization and jihadist violence, White has a close eye on the activity in Russia.

There, security forces are searching for five suspects believed to be potential suicide bombers on the loose.

One of them could be a so-called “black widow” already hiding out in Sochi. Militant groups in the Caucasus region in eastern Europe along the Black and Caspian seas are known to use “black widows” — female terrorists so called because some seek to avenge the deaths of their husbands. They are considered by security experts to be harder to pick out in a crowd because they don’t  fit the stereotype of an Islamic militant and they can easily alter their appearance with clothing and makeup.

“There’s always a concern of others and there are different levels of security,” White said. “In fact, we’ll be talking about that in class — different ways of layering security and administering security and responding to limit the damage of a suicide bomber.”

White said a massive international event like the Olympics is an easy target for terrorists wanting the attention for their cause.

“Terrorists aren’t strong so they have to project an aura, so simply releasing a video adds to that aura,” he said.

Russia has mounted an intense security operation in Sochi, but there are still concerns that so-called “soft targets” outside the Olympic venues, like buses and tourist facilities, are vulnerable to attack.

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