The young woman was smiling and waving as she approached the bus
that had stopped at a railroad crossing near the Caucasus town of
Mozdok, North Ossetia.
When the driver refused to open the doors, she tried to lunge
beneath the vehicle. Witnesses said she screamed "Allahu akhbar"
(God is great).
Then came an explosion that killed at least 17 people, mostly
military personnel headed to work at Prokhladny Air Force base, the
main base for Russian operations in the neighboring breakaway
republic of Chechnya.
It was the third deadly suicide bombing in or around Chechnya in
less than a month - and the third to involve Chechen women - a trend
presenting a new problem for the Kremlin as it tries to impose peace
Experts say the unprecedented prominence of female suicide
bombers is a sign of Chechen desperation that could signal the
"Palestinization" of the mainly Muslim republic's long war of
independence from Russia.
"Something has come unglued at the very heart of Chechen
society," says Irina Zvigeskaya, an expert with the official
Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow. "It is almost unheard of
for Chechen women to fight. They are traditionally the heads of the
household and the peacemakers in Chechen society. Many things must
have changed irrevocably for Chechen men to accept this terrible new
role for women in battle."
At least one woman was with a suicide squad that blew up a
Chechen government compound in Znamenskoye May 12, killing 59
people. Days later two female shakhidy, or martyrs, wearing
explosive belts, tried to assassinate Chechnya's Moscow-appointed
leader, Akhmad Kadyrov, during a religious festival near the Chechen
capital of Grozny. Both women, and 15 other people, died..
Last Thursday's attack on the Air Force bus suggests that the
appearance of female bombers is no temporary aberration.
"In our culture, both suicide and women joining in combat are
unthinkable," says Zainap Gasheyeva, a Chechen and cochair of Ekho
Voini, an antiwar coalition of Chechen and Russian women. "But
Chechen women who have lost all their menfolk and all their reasons
for living may see no other way out. The fact that they attack
Russian targets shows who they blame for the destruction of
everything that matters to them."
The Kremlin alleges that the deadly wave of what it calls "black
widows" is an artificial import into Chechnya by other terrorist
groups, who it claims now control the Chechen rebel movement. "All
these terrorist attacks are links in a single chain which originates
beyond our borders," said Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir
Ustinov after the Mozdok blast.
Few deny that there have been outside influences at work in
Chechnya. Russian officials and international terror experts say
that Al Qaeda has extended its reach to the Caucasus republic. But
most observers say that, at least so far, Chechens have not signed
on to the worldwide jihad vision of Al Qaeda, but are locked in a
localized struggle over land, ethnicity, and independence more like
the struggles of Palestinian militants against Israel.
"As in Palestine, we see more and more segments of the
population, including women and children, being recruited into
terrorism," says Alexander Iskanderyan, head of the Armenia-based
Center for Caucasian studies. …