Moscow concert suicide bombers linked to Chechen 'Black Widows'

 

RUSSIA: Suspicion is growing that two Chechen women who blew themselves up at last Saturday's Moscow rock concert were part of a specially trained suicide group, the "Black Widows".

Raids by Russian special forces over the past two days have unearthed explosives belts and training materials from the home village of one of the bombers.

The Black Widows - the Russian nickname for the squad - are drawn from Chechen women who have lost husbands, brothers or sons in fighting with security forces.

Their motivation is, apparently, despair. Their weapon is borrowed from the suicide bombers seen in action in Israel: a specially-made belt laden with explosives made more deadly by having coils of wire, or ball bearings, wrapped around them.

The Black Widows were unknown until last October when 18 of them, each dressed in long robes and with explosives strapped to their bodies, appeared amid 50 Chechens who seized control of a Moscow theatre.

Their explosives never went off and the siege was ended when security forces pumped a mystery gas into the theatre, killing the rebels but also 129 hostages.

They resurfaced two months ago, when on May 12th a Chechen woman drove a truck packed with explosives into a government compound in Chechnya, killing 59. Two days later Shakhidat Baymuradova and another bomber detonated themselves at a religious festival in the Chechen capital, Grozny.

Their apparent target was the Moscow-installed regional governor, Mr Akhmad Kadyrov.

Mr Kadyrov survived, but 16 other people were killed. Investigators found that Baymuradova was the widow of a Chechen fighter killed in 1999.

Then on June 5th, a woman approached a bus carrying servicemen to an airbase near the Russian military headquarters of Mozdok in North Ossetia, the hub of operations in Chechnya.

The driver refused to open the bus doors, so the woman, shouting Allah Akhbar, flung herself under the bus, detonated her explosives belt, and destroyed the bus, killing 17, most of them airforcemen.

Last weekend's attack, in which two women killed 14 and wounded 64, is the first time the Black Widows have widened their target list to include ordinary Russians, and the first time they have struck at Moscow.

Russia's response has been swift. Special forces sweeps have targeted the home village of one of the women, Zalikhan Elikhadzhiyeva (20).

Explosive belts were found there in fighting that saw five rebels killed, apparently confirming her membership of the group. And new fighting yesterday saw two more rebels killed with a major battle at a training camp in Nozhai-Yurt.

Human rights groups say the women are driven to this method through desperation and despair in a war that has cost perhaps 100,000 lives, most of them civilians.

"Probably, they are women whose relatives were cruelly executed by Russian troops in Chechnya, where family is most important in people's minds," psychologist Kheda Omarkhadzhiyeva told the Moscow Times.

Chechen society is highly paternal, with women forbidden to take combat roles.

The arrival of the Black Widows indicates a serious dislocation of the society.

Russia insists the presence of Black Widows is proof of the links between Chechen fighters and fundamentalist terrorists.

Russia's President, Mr Vladimir Putin, has vowed to strike back, cancelling foreign trips this week and promising that the terrorists would be "eliminated". But the truth is that Russia's security forces will be no more successful in this than in their other operations.

Meanwhile, the Moscow summer concert season has only just started, and the majority of the Black Widows remain at large.