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US issues travel alert for Sochi Winter Olympic Games

The US government has issued a travel alert to its citizens planning to attend the Olympic Games in Sochi. The alert warned of the potential for terrorism in Russia but said there was no specific threat to Americans.

The travel alert issued by the US State Department on Friday doesn't actually advise Americans not to visit Russia for the Sochi Games, but it does urge them to be vigilant if they do.

The alert, posted on the State Department's website, notes that several "acts of terrorism" had occurred in Russia over the past couple of months, including the suicide bombings that hit a train station and trolley bus that killed more than 30 people in December.

"There is no indication of a specific threat to US institutions or citizens, but U.S. citizens should be aware of their personal surroundings and follow good security practices," it says.

The alert was issued a day after Russian security forces launched an anti-terror operation in the North Caucasus, after six men were found dead in the region, where insurgents are seeking to carve out an Islamic state.

On Saturday, security forces reported that they had arrested five members of a banned militant group in southern Russia and defused a homemade bomb packed with shrapnel. Russia's National Anti-terrorism Committee reported that the arrests had occured about 300 kilometers (190 miles) from Sochi.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had already ordered security to be beefed up in the wake of the Volgograd attacks and an extensive security plan has been put in place for the Sochi Games.

Earlier in the week, the director of the US FBI, James Comey, said he was convinced that Moscow was doing all it could to make the Games safe.

"I think the Russian government understands the threat and is devoting the resources to address it," Comey said.

Homosexuality propaganda law

The alert, which the Department issues to advise US citizens of short-term risks in a specific country or region, also mentioned a law passed in Russia early last year which makes it illegal to promote homosexuality.

"Russian citizens found guilty of violating the law could face a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,100, 2,268 euros). Foreign citizens face similar fines, up to 14 days in jail, and deportation," the alert said.

It also warned Americans about the danger of petty crime and demonstrations, which are to only be allowed at a village several kilometers from Sochi.

"Demonstrations intended to be peaceful can develop quickly and unpredictably, sometimes turning violent,” it said.

A travel alert is seen as less serious than a travel warning, in which the State Department wants "you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all," according to a statement on its website.

The Sochi Winter Olympics begin on February 7 and run through the following two weeks.

pfd/dr (Reuters, dpa)

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