The Olympic committees of at least five European countries have received letters in Russian making a “terrorist threat” before the Sochi Games, but Olympic chiefs say they pose no danger.
The letters briefly caused alarm to committees in Italy, Hungary, Germany, Slovenia and Slovakia and underlined nervousness over security at the $56.4 billion event.
“I am very pleased to inform everyone that both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Sochi organising committee… declared after the analysis of the letter that this threat is not real,” Hungarian Olympic Committee spokesman Zsigmond Nagy said.
He said “this person has been sending all kinds of messages to many members of the Olympic family”, with the letter threatening Hungarian nationals, competitors and officials, saying that “persons attending the Olympic Games might be blown up”.
Mr Nagy also quoted IOC officials as saying the letters had been sent by someone living outside Russia who had carried out such hoaxes before, but did not identify the person.
“This threat is not a real one and there is nothing to worry about,” he said.
Officials in Italy, Germany, Slovakia and Slovenia said their national committees had also received threats and passed them to police.
The Switzerland-based IOC moved quickly to ease concern after the first of the letters was received in Budapest.
It said it took security very seriously and passed on any credible information to the relevant security services.
“However, 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,” it said.
Russia on high alert after several security concerns
The IOC has said it is confident that the Games, opening in Sochi on February 7, will be safe.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has put about 37,000 security personnel on combat alert in the Black Sea resort and increased security nationwide.
Russia has also been discussing its security operation with the United States, and Mr Putin has spoken about security at Sochi with US president Barack Obama by telephone.
Even so, Moscow has failed to dampen concern that it will be able to guarantee the safety of visitors and competitors, despite the most elaborate security preparations ever made for an Olympics.
Security concerns were heightened when suicide bombers killed at least 34 people after two bomb blasts in the Russian city of Volgograd last month.
Islamist militants have threatened to attack the Winter Games, with militant leader Doku Umarov calling for insurgents fighting for an Islamist state in North Caucasus to attack Sochi.
Security forces are also hunting for 23-year-old Ruzanna Ibragimova, a woman suspected of planning a suicide bombing and of being in Sochi already.
“[She] may be used as a terrorist-suicide bomber by [insurgency] leaders to organise terrorist acts during preparations for and during the 2014 Winter Olympics,” a letter from Russia’s Federal Security Services to local police said.
The letter said she was the widow of a slain Islamist militant and is believed to have recently left her home in North Caucasus.
Some Russian media say Russian forces may also be looking for other would-be suicide bombers known as “Black Widows”, but the reports have not been confirmed.