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Latest Sochi threat labelled hoax

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BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Threats to a string of European Olympic offices are reviving a question that has haunted preparations for the Winter Games next month: Is it safe to go to Sochi?

European Olympic authorities, whose countries have faced terrorist threats and attacks in the past, largely shrugged off the new menacing messages as a hoax, a marginal phenomenon that security experts say is common ahead of big events.

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Some members of the U.S. Congress aren't so sure. They say Russia isn't doing enough to assure athletes will be protected at the Feb. 7-23 games, happening not far from an Islamic insurgency that Russia's huge security apparatus has struggled for two decades to quell.

Russia may run greater risks in towns outside the tightly controlled Olympic zone. Suicide bombs last month a few hundred kilometres away have increased concerns, and an Islamic warlord has urged his followers to attack the Sochi Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin's pet project.

The threats reported Wednesday appeared to be more anodyne.

They were first revealed by Hungarian sports officials, who announced they had received an email in Russian and English threatening Hungarian athletes with terrorist attacks.

The International Olympic Committee insisted it takes credible threats seriously, but "in this case it seems like the email sent to the Hungarian Olympic Committee contains no threat and appears to be a random message from a member of the public."

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said he remains confident in Russia's Olympic organizers.

Talking to reporters in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday, he said: "Security is always a matter of concern, not only in the Olympic Games but at every big event, whether it's sport or any other. That is unfortunately the world we are living in.

"But we are very confident and we know the Russian authorities together with their many partners internationally are doing everything to organize the games in a safe and secure way."

The Hungarian Olympic Committee said it had received a message from the organizers of the Sochi Games saying: "Threat described in the email sent to your address is not real."

It turned out Olympic committees from several other European countries, including Britain, Germany, Italy and Austria, had received similar messages but hadn't publicly reported them.

The Canadian Olympic Committee would not say whether it had received a similar message. However, the COC did release a statement later Wednesday.

"The safety of our entire Canadian Olympic team including our athletes, coaches, support team and volunteers is always our main priority," the statement said. "We have the utmost confidence that the International Olympic Committee and the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee will deliver outstanding Olympic Winter Games."

Wolfgang Eichler, spokesman for the Austrian National Olympic Committee, said the email was a hoax officials had seen before.

"It's a fake mail from a sender in Israel who has been active with various threats for a few years," Eichler told Austrian news agency APA. "It's been checked out because it also arrived two years ago."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 23, 2014 A11

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