Unexplained killings heighten security fears over Sochi Winter Olympics

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A series of unexplained killings in southern Russia involving booby-trapped bombs has further heightened security fears ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Investigators were scrambling yesterday to determine who had killed six men whose bodies were found the day before in four cars abandoned in an area just north of the volatile Caucasus Mountains region, where an Islamic insurgency is simmering.

Explosive devices had been placed near three of the cars, although only one of the bombs went off and no one was hurt. The victims had been shot.

Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for Russia’s main investigative agency, said that no motive had yet been found for the killings on the outskirts of Pyatigorsk, which is the centre of an administrative district created in 2010 to co-ordinate efforts to combat the insurgency. In late December, a car bomb exploded outside the traffic police offices there, killing three people.

In an indication of Russia’s unease over security ahead of the Olympics, Mr Markin said Federal Security Service officers had joined the investigation, which was classified as a counter-terrorist operation.

The shootings of seemingly ordinary local residents would appear to be more typical of criminal behaviour, perhaps involving score-settling by organised gangs. But the use of explosives was suggestive of the kinds of terror attacks that take place nearly daily in the Caucasus.

Russia is still on edge following two suicide bombings in December in Volgograd, also in the south, which killed 34 people.