By Julia Lugovska*– Nearly 70% of all suicide attacks and bombings committed by Chechen terrorist groups have involved women, and nearly 50% of them involved women exclusively. Among the main reasons of becoming a “Black Widow”, female suicide bomber, is revenge, despair, personal matters, rarely these are religious reasons. But how do these women become “shaheed” (martyrs)? How do they commit these acts? Phenomenon of Chechen “Black Widows” requires studying the details of the whole system of functioning of the terrorist groups and preparing the suicide bombers, what is really a good business in Chechnya operating according to the detailed schemes.
Talking about Chechen female suicide bombers it’s very important to mark, that most of them don’t take decision to blow up themselves on their own. The terrorist attacks are carefully planned and organized by several groups operating on the territory of Northern Caucasus and preparing the suicide bombers for their missions. Future shaheed are being recruited by special people all over the region, and this is a really big network which is believed to be sponsored by some radical Islamist groups and NGOs, as all of the terrorist acts are being ordered, according to the testimonies of some suicide bombers who survived (for example, Zarema Muzhakhoyeva).
Recruiters search for the potential candidates among the women and girls who have lost their husbands or other relatives, experienced brutality of Russian soldiers and policemen, who have lost everything and has no way out of the difficult life situation. Women from this category could be driven by wish to avenge their dead relatives and beloved ones.
Another category of potential female terrorists includes young girls from radical Wahhabi families, when the reasons are religious and ideological. There were even a lot of cases, when parents and relatives sold their daughters to become suicide bombers and to participate in jihad against Russians occupying Chechen territory. Parents usually received financial compensation for loss of their child. This compensation is nearly $ 1000, like it was with many families of the girls participated in Moscow Theatre Siege (2003). Meanwhile each recruited suicide bomber brings the organization responsible for it nearly $ 20,000-30,000, according to shocking investigations conducted by many journalists studying the issue, among them Yulia Yuzik, author of the book “Brides of Allah”, describing the lives of female suicide bombers from Chechnya. Thus, organizing of suicide terrorist attacks and recruiting people to carry them out is a big business in Northern Caucasus, what is really very alarming and need extreme attention of security forces.
Though this aspect is often denied or silenced by Russian secret forces, and suicide bombers are usually being defined as religious fanatics and bandits, and they are often being blamed for all these terrorist attacks and killings of civilians, despite the fact that these women are also the victims. In the most cases they don’t carry out the attacks alone, they are always being accompanied, and their bags or belts with explosives are being detonated remotely. It’s important to understand that when the person gets into the so called “terrorist base” and agrees to become shaheed, there is actually no way out.
After the future suicide bomber is recruited, usually by the woman, whom she knows and trusts, she is being brought to the “base”, where she’ll be prepared for the terrorist operation. Usually this “base” is located in the simple village house, and there is nothing suspicious in it. No secret bases located somewhere in the mountains, no camps. Just simple village house. Sometimes even neighbors have no idea of what is going on in that house.
The most important moment in the process of preparation is to cut the girl’s relations with her family and friends by any means and to isolate her from the world. The girl could be taken to “get married” and live in the family of husband (according to Chechen traditions a girl after marriage leaves house of her parents and should live her own life in the house of husband, and her parents cannot interfere), she could be abducted and forced to marriage and then left, she could be even raped, so she cannot live normal life after it (in traditional Chechen society this is a shame, and family could abandon the girl). Sometimes the girl could be taken from her house in the presence of her parents, and they don’t interfere (Yulia Yuzik describes a lot of situations like this). The ways could be different; the most important is to cut all the previous relationships and to isolate the girl.
Then the main psychological work starts, when the girl is being given extremist religious literature, and somebody, whom she already trusts, leads religious talks with her explaining the meaning of Qur’an verses about jihad and martyrdom and convincing her of necessity of the mission prepared for her. Qur’an is usually distorted and misinterpreted in order to convince the girl. As a lot of them aren’t educated enough (due to the life circumstances), they are easy to convince and manipulate. If the girl has lost her relative or beloved one, she’s often being convinced that she must commit a suicide bombing in order to take revenge and to become a part of jihad against the enemies. Often she’s being told that she will meet all her beloved ones in heaven, so she commits a suicide bombing believing in it. There are also cases when the girl’s reasons are religious or ideological, but these cases are rare in comparison to the personal matters and revenge as the main motives and reasons. Drugging, hypnotizing and psychological manipulation are also being used during the “training”.
Period of preparation can take from several weeks to almost half a year. After the future bomber is prepared, she’s being brought to the place of the terrorist operation, receives instructions and some details. On the eve of the operation the girl is being filmed with her address to people declaring what she’s going to do. This form was allegedly imposed by Shamil Basayev as a strong psychological method. Declaring herself shaheed, a girl cannot change her decision, so she must commit this attack, in other case it will be shame, according to the interview with Zarema Muzhakhoyeva, suicide bomber, who should blew herself up near Moscow café in 2003, but gave herself to police. Thus, after this video address there is no way out. These videos though aren’t usually broadcasted in Chechnya and are being used mostly for further recruitment and funding.
Considering the fact that the “Black Widows” become totally isolated from the society and the outside world and undergo massive brainwashing and psychological manipulation, that they usually don’t explode themselves and are always controlled during the operation (if they will change their minds and try to escape, the bomb will be anyway detonated), it is really hard to blame them only, as they appear to be victims and terrorists at the same time.
*Julia Lugovska is an Ukrainian journalist based in Kiev.