Black widows cast dark shadow over Sochi
Female Chechen fighters have taken part in violent attacks against Russia, including the Volgograd suicide bombings which killed 34 people. Photo: Heidi Bradner/Panos pictures.
When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride,
He shouts to scare the monster who will often turn aside.
But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail,
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.
As the Sochi Olympics looms, Russian security forces must find those lines from Rudyard Kipling triply chilling.
According to an AP report, their biggest terrorism fear is now “three potential suicide bombers,” who may have penetrated the Russian ring of steel around Sochi -- one of whom, Ruzanna Ibragimova, a 22-year-old widow of an Islamic militant, is said to be inside the Olympic resort town. Police in Sochi circulated photos of two other women in veils they said were trained to “perpetuate acts of terrorism.”
Ever since 2000, when the second bloody Chechen war ended in defeat for the rebel militias, a battalion of female suicide bombers known as Black Widows have been among the most feared terrorists in Russia. In 2002 they strapped on bombs and joined a hostage taking in a Moscow theatre. In 2010 they killed some 40 people in two Moscow suicide bombings, and took down two Russian passenger planes, with dozens of casualties.
More recently, women were accused of carrying out two deadly bombings in the southern Russian city of Volgograd.
What turns Chechen women into terrorists?
Recent evidence is thin on the ground. But a 2006 study based on 45 interviews with family members, friends or former hostages of 34 female suicide bombers from the Caucasus, indicates that most were in the grip of post traumatic stress, which notoriously prompts suicidal impulses. The result of two devastating wars with Russia, between late 1994 and 2000, in which many Chechens lost family members and homes.
Like their male counterparts after Russia’s victory, women also fell under the influence of radical Islam, in a culture where females are trained to use guns at an early age but men are the strategists and warlords. Traumatized by “feelings of grief, anger, depression, survivor’s guilt and eventually desire for revenge,” they volunteered for the most extreme form of revenge and vindication – a one-way trip to jihadist paradise.
As life under the Russian-installed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov became increasingly grim, with kidnappings and assassinations of suspected opponents, women joined the struggle for an Islamic caliphate that spread throughout the Caucasus.
Now the trauma has come full circle.
The study, by American and Chechen psychologists Anne Speckhard and Khapta Adhmedova, says that Chechen women are “the most dangerous for security” because they’re willing to take on the most risky operations. They added prophetically, “if the trend continues they will be a grave threat.”
Olivia Ward covered the former Soviet Union from 1992 to 2002, including the first and second Chechen wars. A documentary by Shelley Saywell, A Child’s Century of War, was based on her work.