Russia on Thursday launched a counter-terror operation after five bodies riddled with bullets were found in a southern region bordering the Winter Olympics host Sochi, less than a month before the start of the games.
Two districts in the Stavropol region were placed on combat alert after the bodies were found in four cars, one of them apparently booby-trapped, in the Stavropol region on Wednesday, the Interfax news agency quoted the FSB security service as saying.
The five corpses were found in two separate districts outside the regional capital Stavropol, a gateway to the North Caucasus, where Russia faces an insurgency by Islamist militants who have threatened to try to prevent the Olympics going ahead.
As police examined one of the cars, which contained the body of a local resident who had been shot in the head, an improvised explosive device (IED) went off in a nearby ditch, causing no injuries.
Officers then defused another device nearby, the FSB said.
A security source told Interfax the two devices were packed with small metal elements such as screws to cause maximum injury and resembled those previously used by insurgents in southern Russia.
Two other bodies were identified as local taxi drivers and were found in the back seat and in the boot of their Lada cars. The remaining two bodies were found close to a parked car, Interfax cited the FSB as saying.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major criminal cases in Russia, opened investigations into murder, arms trafficking and attempts on the lives of law enforcement officials.
The Stavropol region borders the Krasnodar region where the Black Sea resort of Sochi is located.
Russia has already tightened security before next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, on which President Vladimir Putin has staked a lot of political and personal prestige, and is on high alert after suicide bombers killed at least 34 people in separate attacks in the southern city of Volgograd last month.
Russia on Tuesday launched the largest security operation in Olympic history, a month before the Winter Games kick off on February 7.
Security measures around Sochi include special permits for cars to enter the city or access Olympic venues, as well as drones monitoring the region and patrols by army troops. The Black Sea resort is on the western edge of the Caucasus mountains where the insurgents want to carve out an Islamic state.
The head of Russia’s Olympic Committee has said no more can be done to safeguard the Games because every measure possible is already in place.
Russian forces went on combat alert in Sochi on Tuesday and about 37,000 personnel are now in place to provide security at the Games, Russian officials say.