Nightly News   |  January 20, 2014

Caucasus conflict could explode at Winter Games

As security forces search for “black widows” targeting the Sochi Olympics, NBC News’ Richard Engel travels to the heart of Russia's Islamic insurgency.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. the winter olympic games opening ceremony in sochi , russia , is 18 days away . the russians from vladimir putin down, have been telling the world, in effect, we've got this. despite the very real threat of terrorism, they have been assuring the athletes and tourists and media who plan to attend, these will be the safest and most heavily defended games ever. the problem is, the threat has become more real in just the past few days. it now includes specific people, some of whom may have tried to infiltrate the games in advance. so we begin here tonight with our chief foreign correspondent, richard engel in moscow. richard, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. russia has described its security perimeter around sochi as a ring of steel. well, it may not be as impenetratable as they hoped. at the sochi airport today, travelers were closely watched, as russian security forces search for as many as four women, suspected suicide bombers who may be planning an attack on the olympics . one who may have made it into sochi is 22-year-old ruzana ibragimova. police distributed wanted posters. ruzana is a so-called black wid widow. she got that scar on her cheek by a raid last year. her husband was killed. yesterday, two men in a video claiming their preparing to carry out last month's suicide attack in volograd, and warning of attacks on the olympics to come. they, like ruzana, come from dagestan, the heart of russia 's islamic insurgency much we recently visited dagestan, a poor muslim republic, where many hate vladimir putin and want independence from russian. some want islamic law . instead, they have gotten a harsh crackdown. at a mosque, men told us, russian forces burst in during prayers. i was hit with a police club, policemen beat me, he said. they were asking, why do you go to the mosque? anger is raw on both sides. shamil's brother was killed on this corner by islamic militants . this was your brother?

>> yeah.

>> reporter: his brother was a policeman. now shamil is joining the force too. he said he wants justice. it's this old russian conflict in the caucuses that could explode during the olympics .

>> showed us they have capabilities. they have organizations, they have people, to carry out the suicide bombing attacks.

>> reporter: islamic militants hoping to show the world their cause and destroy putin's prized olympic games . u.s. officials have complained, they are not getting enough security cooperation from russia , specifically they worry that sochi doesn't have the infrastructure in place, the road, the hospitals, to manage a crisis should one occur. brian?

>> richard engel starting us off in moscow tonight, thanks.