Two Austrians get kidnap threats on eve of Games

Tue Feb 4, 2014 11:56am EST
 
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By Michael Shields and Keith Weir

VIENNA/SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Two Austrian competitors have received kidnap threats on the eve of the Sochi Winter Olympics, heightening security concerns at the Games and triggering an investigation by counter-terrorism experts.

It was not known who made the threats, in a letter to the Austrian national Olympic Committee, although Islamist militants have warned of attacks to undermine President Vladimir Putin's hopes of using the Games to show Russia is a safe, modern state.

Sources close to the Austrian Olympic team identified the competitors Alpine skier Bernadette Schild and skeleton racer Janine Flock, the current European champion. Austrian media had earlier said it was Schild's sister, former world champion Marlies, who had been threatened.

Specialists were checking whether the threat should be taken seriously. Threatening letters sent last month to delegations in several countries, including the United States, were deemed by the International Olympic Committee to pose no danger.

"We informed the minister of internal affairs and Austria's police... there is no actual threat at the moment," Peter Mennel, general secretary of Austria's Olympic Committee, told reporters at Sochi's Adler airport.

"We have two security people here and if the threat is confirmed we will give additional security to the athletes," he said after flying in with the Austrian team, including one of the competitors who has been threatened.

He declined to name them but said he had spoken to one of the pair by phone and the other in person. He said one of the two told him: "I'm not afraid and I know we're in good hands.

A spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry confirmed the national counter-terrorism agency had been brought in to look at the origin and content of the letter.   Continued...

 
Austria's Marlies Schild after winning the women's giant slalom World Cup race in the Tyrolean ski resort of Lienz December 29, 2013. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger