Russia's War on Terror took a bloody turn for the worse earlier this month when terrorists from the breakaway republic of Chechnya staged two suicide attacks in Moscow. It was the first time suicide bombings, usually associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reached Russian territory proper. But, unlike in the Middle East where most suicide bombers are Palestinian men, Chechen women were the perpetrators of the Moscow attacks.
In the first incident, two Chechen females, one only 20-years-old, strapped explosive belts containing metal pieces around their waists and went to an outdoor rock concert. There, they detonated their deadly packages fifteen minutes apart at the concert entrance, killing 14 people and wounding 53. A second incident saw a 22-year-old 'Black Widow' attempt to enter a
fashionable Moscow restaurant with a sports bag containing ball bearings and 400 grams of explosives. Fortunately, suspicious security personnel stopped her, preventing the bomb's detonation, but a military sapper died attempting to dismantle it.
In Chechnya itself, two female suicide bombers tried to assassinate pro-Russian Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov at a religious festival last May, killing some bodyguards. And last month, a Chechen woman suicide bomber tried to destroy a bus filled with Russian air force personnel in North Ossetia. Altogether, Black Widow suicide attacks have killed almost 100 people and wounded several hundred more.
However, the women responsible for the rock concert tragedy and the restaurant death were not the first Chechen female suicide bombers to make their presence felt in Moscow. Last October, forty-one Chechen terrorists, half of them women, took almost 800 people hostage at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow. Female participants in the attack wore explosives-laden belts, an ominous portent of this month's terrorist events.
The Chechen women also earned their sobriquet, 'Black Widows,' during this crisis when they were seen on television dressed in black hijabs with only their eyes showing. But the theater takeover ended before they had the chance to blow themselves up. Russian security forces flooded the building with a knockout gas that killed most of the terrorists as well as dozens of the hostages.
It is believed the reason why young Chechen Muslim women are turning themselves into live bombs is more personal rather than religious or cause-related: they want to avenge loved ones killed in Chechnya's 10-year war with Russia. One of the terrorists involved in the Dubrovka attack, for
example, was the widow of a top Chechen military leader, while the woman who tried to smuggle the bomb into the Moscow restaurant, Zaema Muzhikhoyeva, had also lost her guerrilla-fighter husband in the conflict. Moreover, male-dominated Chechen society mostly excludes women from fighting in the war, leaving this form of self-immolation as their only means of striking back. In a way, the Chechen Black Widows resemble the Tamil women suicide bombers in Sri Lanka, who are also products of a horrific civil conflict, more than the Muslim female bombers encountered in Israel and post-war Iraq.
And since it is estimated more than one hundred thousand Chechens have perished in the brutal, decade-long war, more female Chechen suicide bombers are expected in Russia. As one Chechen woman told a hostage in the Dubrovka theater: "You're having a bad day, but we've had a bad 10 years."
Russian authorities claim there is an international connection behind the Black Widow bombings, saying Arab terrorists trained the Moscow attackers. Even more worrying is the fact that security officials believe these foreign terrorists may have trained more than thirty other Chechen women as well. After her capture, Muzhikhoyeva said that even the Moscow-based leader of the suicide bombers is a woman called 'Black Fatima,' who was also seen at the rock concert.
At a cabinet meeting two days after the rock festival bombing, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized the foreign influence in the attacks, saying the Chechens "are not only connected with international terrorist organizations but they have become an inalienable - maybe the most dangerous - part of the international terrorist network." He also vowed to crush them. The rock concert bombing had occurred only a day before Putin signed a decree to hold presidential elections in Chechnya this October.
Ordinary Russians, however, are not panicking. They are also not critical of the government's handling of the emergency and know security forces performed well, having prevented one bomber from getting into the concert and another from blowing up the restaurant. Like the British during the IRA bombing campaigns, the Russians are putting up with the increased security measures and showing a brave front to terrorist intimidation.