MOSCOW — A leading Chechen rebel on Wednesday called on Islamist militants in Russia's North Caucasus to disrupt the upcoming Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, reversing his previous appeal not to target civilians in the region.
Sochi is hosting the Winter Games in February, a pet project for President Vladimir Putin, who is determined for them to be a success. The overall bill for the games stands at $51 billion, making them by far the most expensive Olympics in history.
Doku Umarov, a widely known Chechen rebel leader, urged his fighters to "do their utmost to derail" the games, which he described as "satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors."
"We have the obligation to use all means to prevent this," he said in a video posted on a rebel Web site on Wednesday.
Umarov last year urged his fighters to avoid hitting civilian targets because Russians in Moscow were taking to the streets en masse to protest against Putin.
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Security experts have said the Islamic insurgency raging across the North Caucasus mountains that tower over Sochi is a daunting threat to the games — although rebels have not attacked Sochi so far.
Dagestan, which lies about 300 miles east of Sochi, has become the center of the insurgency that spread across the North Caucasus region after two separatist wars in the 1990s in neighboring Chechnya. Rebels seeking to carve out a caliphate, or Islamic state, have targeted police and other officials in near-daily shootings and bombings. Umarov is believed to be their most influential leader.
Jean-Claude Killy, head of the IOC coordination commission for Sochi, said such threats are to be expected.
"We get threats before every Olympics," he said. "This cannot be taken lightly. I think the Russians are well equipped to face the challenge."
The Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee said in an email that ensuring security at the games is "the responsibility of the state" and will be its priority.
"We are confident that the games will be safe and comfortable for all as guaranteed by the Russian state," the committee said.
Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee said in a statement that it is working to eliminate threats at all international sporting events in the country including the Olympics. Officials said that they aim "to identify and avert various threats, including those of terrorism."
Ramzan Kadyrov, a strongman who rules Chechnya, played down the influence of Umarov and promised that his security forces would track him down. "Before the Olympics, I think, I'm sure, that we will destroy him," Kadyrov said. "We search for him every day, but he is nowhere to be found."
An officer of the Interior Ministry's special task force in the North Caucasus, who asked not to be identified because he was not allowed to comment publicly, told the Associated Press that Umarov's statement could prompt Russians to step up their efforts to comb the mountainous areas where Umarov could be hiding.
The United States declared Umarov's group a terrorist organization in 2011 and offered up to $5 million for information leading to his capture.
Umarov's group is blamed for bombing a Moscow airport in January 2011, two subway stations in 2010 and a Russian train in 2009.
Spain makes a big push for the 2020 Games
LAUSANNE, Switzerland — With Spain's crown prince stealing the show, Madrid made the biggest impact Wednesday among the three cities bidding for the 2020 Olympics and established itself as a serious contender in the race.
Madrid, Istanbul, and Tokyo made their pitches to IOC members, hoping to seize the momentum in the final two months before the vote.
This was the first time the cities had the chance to present their case directly to the electorate — and Madrid made the most of it, generating a buzz that could make the race tighter than ever.
Counted out by many a few months ago because of Spain's severe financial troubles, Madrid hammered home the message that it offers a low-cost, no-risk bid.
And Crown Prince Felipe, a former Olympic sailor who was Spain's flag-bearer at the 1992 Barcelona Games, charmed the members with his speech.
"If you're grading performance, Madrid did the best in terms of the message and delivery of it," senior Canadian IOC member Dick Pound said. "The star of the day was the prince. It was his content, his delivery, his genuineness.
"Those who might have Madrid as a distant third would now be rethinking that."
Other members also cited the 45-year-old prince's appearance as the highlight of the day. Britain's Craig Reedie, who wrote a technical report evaluating the bids, said Madrid "lifted their game."
While Madrid stood out Wednesday, members said, all three cities made strong presentations, and no candidate looms as a favorite heading into the vote on Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires.
It was at a similar meeting in 2009 that Rio de Janeiro grabbed the momentum in the race for the 2016 Games, but members said there was probably no dramatic turn this time to decide the winner.
"I think it's less clear than before," Reedie said.
Istanbul's presentation passed off with scant mention of the anti-government protests that swept the country last month, while Tokyo cited its financial strength and the Olympics as a symbol of Japan's recovery from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Istanbul is bidding for a fifth time overall, and Tokyo is back for a second consecutive time. Madrid is bidding for a third time in a row after finishing third in the voting for the 2012 Olympics and second for the 2016 Games.
The meetings took place behind closed doors at the Beaulieu convention center. Each delegation had 45 minutes to make speeches and show videos, with another 45 minutes allotted for questions and answers.