Olympic travelers' safety in question
A gay rights activist shows a photo of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, depicted as a devil, as protesters gather next to the European institutions in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday, Jan. 27. Despite months of protests, Russia’s law against ‘gay propaganda’remains in place, but no major boycott of the Russian-hosted Winter Olympics seems likely. YVES LOGGHE/The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - Americans planning to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, should be vigilant about their security due to potential terrorist threats and the country's ban on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual relations.
In a travel alert, the U.S. Department of State said large events like the Olympics are "an attractive target for terrorists", and that Americans should be aware of their surroundings and take common-sense precautions to stay safe, notably on public transport.
Terrorists have targeted public transport in the general vicinity of Sochi as recently as last December, although the department stressed that those attacks took place in the city of Volgograd, some 600 miles from the games' venue.
The Caucasus Emirate, a group designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization, has called for attacks on the Olympics. Although the group's ability to strike the games is not clear, the alert noted that the group has in the past been responsible for large-scale attacks on targets including a ski resort, a metro system, a high-speed rail, an airport and a theater.
This is not the first time terrorism has threatened the games, M. Isabel Medina, a law professor at Loyola and an expert in areas of law related to terrorism, said.
"Terrorists have previously targeted the Olympic Games. In fact, the Olympics in Munich in 1972 resulted in horrific violence and death," Medina said.
Jeanne Woods, a professor of the College of Law at Loyola with an expertise in international human rights, national security, and public international law, also recalls another similar incident.
"There was a terrorist bombing at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, where an African-American woman was killed," Woods said.
The threat of terrorism prompted Russia to take appropriate security measures to protect athletes, spectators and infrastructure. On Thursday in Washington, FBI Director James Comey said the Russians are devoting substantial resources and effort to securing the Olympics.
"Securing any Olympics is an enormous task. It's particularly challenging in Sochi, because of its proximity to areas of unrest and sources of the terrorist threat. The Russian government understands the threat and is devoting the resources to address it," Comey said.
In addition to the potential for terrorism, the alert also advised lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to review the State Department's LGBT travel information page if they plan to visit Sochi for the games, noting that Russia has in place a law that bans exhibiting "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" in front of minors.
It said authorities have been vague about defining "propaganda" and that the law applies to foreigners. A conviction on the charge could result in a fine, a jail term and deportation.
Jason Bartlett, an economics freshman at Loyola, sees problems with Russian President, Vladimir Putin's stance on LGBT rights.
"The Russian government needs to recognize the global implications of their policies. The Olympic Games have huge economic and cultural importance to billions of people, and threatening that would cause a worldwide backlash," Bartlett said.
Lauren Stroh contributed to this article.
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