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Tight security welcomes Sochi Olympic torch to volatile Dagestan

The Olympic torch arrived in Russia's volatile Dagestan region amid heightened security Monday as terrorism concerns continued to dominate the run-up to next month's Winter Olympics.

Officials reduced the route through Makhachkala after a local militant group claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings which killed 34 people in the city of Volgograd in December.

According to the independent news website The Caucasian Knot, 270 torchbearers were initially slated to take the flame through the city's streets. But following the attacks claimed by Islamist group Vilayat Daghestan, the number of torchbearers was reduced to just 67 and the procession route was confined to a local soccer stadium.

Dagestan is a mainly Muslim province at the heart of the insurgency to create an Islamist state in the North Caucasus and is hit violence almost daily. 

The torch reached the semi-autonomous republic one day after a threat assessment by the U.K. government seen by the BBC suggested the likelihood of an attack before or during the Sochi Games was "very likely."

The BBC reported the document said the main danger was posed by a group called Imarat Kavkaz, which has repeatedly threatened to target the Olympics.

More than 10,000 American athletes and spectators are expected to attend Sochi during the Games, which start on Feb. 7.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Saturday that the U.S. has made arrangements to extract its citizens from Russia "if we need to."

On Friday, a four-minute video posted online by an ally of al Qaeda emerged and likened the Olympics to those hosted by Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1936 and warned again of terror at Sochi.

Russian security forces are still hunting for at least five suspected terrorists – some of them so-called "black widow" female suicide bombers – who they feared were plotting attacks against the torch relay or the Games themselves.

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