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Shahidka (feminine gender derivation from shahid meaning martyr), is also known as “Black Widow”, is a term for Islamist Chechen female suicide bombers, who emerged from the second Chechen war against the Russian’s which began in 1999 and they made themselves known at the Moscow theater hostage crisis of October 2002. The commander Shamil Basayev had referred to the shahidka’s as a part of force of his suicide bombers called the Riyad-us Saliheen Brigade of Martyrs.

The term of “Black Widows” probably originates from the fact that many of these women are widows of men killed by the Russian forces in Chechnya. In 2003, the Russian journalist Yulia Yuzik coined the phrase “Brides of Allah” when she described the process by which Chechen women were recruited by Basayev and his associates. The phrase was also used again after the Beslan attack, as the title of an installment of the Russian NTV programme Top Secret.

Chechnya is a federal subject of Russia and located in the south-eastern part of Europe, in the Northern Caucasus Mountains. According to the Russian State statistics, 1st January 2010, the population was 1,267,740. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Chechen-Ingush ASSR was split into 2- the Republic of Ingushetia and Republic of Chechnya. Following the First Chechen War with Russia, Chechnya gained de facto independence as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Russian federal control was restored during the Second Chechen War. Since then there has been a systematic reconstruction and rebuilding process, though sporadic fighting continues in the mountains and southern regions of the republic.

Tangled in their web

Covered from head to toe in all-black Islamic robes with only their determined, kohl-lined eyes showing, they horrified not only Russia but the world. They are the widows of Chechen rebels killed in the separatist war with Russia. Chechnya has been called “hell on earth” as it has been the site of the most dangerous insurgencies in modern history since Russian troops first entered the Muslim dominated southern Russian state in 1994 to destabilize a separatist group. The conflict has been spiced by kidnappings, disappearances, executions, tortures and raids at the hands of the Russian forces making the situation for women in Chechnya one of the worst in the world.

“The hostage-taking in Moscow is a dreadful reminder of the unsolved situation in Chechnya,” said Judith Arenas, a spokeswoman for the human-rights group Amnesty International. “The situation there affects every single person, but women are particularly vulnerable to violations that include arbitrary detention, torture and rape.” Rights groups have reported that the fear of rape by Russian forces in Chechnya is pervasive, causing many families, particularly those with young women and girls, to flee and motivating desperate attempts to hide female family members. Most of the women, not all of them, has in fact suffered abuse from the Russians or lost their relatives in the war. They are driven by hate and revenge, not because they are devoted to Islam.

More than 150,000 Chechens have been living in camps in the neighbouring region of Ingushetia since the second Russian military operation was launched against the separatists in September 1999 but even in the camps, Chechen women face hardships, according to Rachel Denver, deputy director of Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that many Chechen women have lost husbands, fathers and brothers, who have been arrested, killed, or have simply disappeared, means that women have had to take on the job of feeding their families while trying to find their husbands, sons, brothers and fathers,” said Denver. The Russian authorities stopped the food aid delivery to the camps at one point to try to make the Chechens return home.

A first group, estimated by the Russian FSB (security service) as numbering 36 women in their 20s’, where gathered by the Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev already in 2002 in the Mountainous region of Southern Chechnya for special training as suicide bombers. Some female suicide bombers acted under other Chechen warlords and some even acted on their own and relied on family connections.

Self-sacrifice women participated in operations like the Moscow Theater or the Beslan Horror and many other suicide attacks were committed all over Russia by the Black  Widows – the most notorious of them was the Double Airliner Explosions, committed on 08/24/2008, a week before the Beslan Hostage case. About 70 Chechen women participated in self-sacrifice operations or committed suicide attacks against Russians and their allies – 18 of them in the Moscow Theater Crisis.

Some operations involving Black widows:

  • Khava Barayeva is renowned as the first known ‘Black Widow’ after blowing herself up at a Russian Army base in Chechnya in June 2000.
  • Medna Bayrokova, a resident of Grozny says she remembers the day a middle aged woman came to her front door asking to speak to her 26-year old daughter. Medna Bayrokova let the woman in. Her daughter, Zareta Bayrokova then spent an hour in her bedroom with the woman, before leaving the house, ostensibly to walk the woman to the bus stop. One hour later her mother was visited by several men in camouflage uniforms who said that they had taken her daughter away as she had agreed to marry one of their members. Less than a month later Medna and her husband saw their daughter again, on the TV news during the Moscow Theater Siege. Zareta’s unmistakable dark eyes were visible above the Niqab worn by one of the female terrorists. Her hands were clasped firmly below a belt of explosives.
  • In May 2003, Shakhida Baimuratova, a Black Widow suicide bomber killed 14 people and wounded 150 in an assassination attempt on the Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov at a crowded festival in Ilashkan-Yurt. A second woman bomber was also present but her explosives failed to detonate.
  • On 5 June 2003 a woman wearing a white coat and an explosive belt threw herself under a bus carrying members of the Russian military. 17 soldiers were killed in the blast and 15 were severely injured.
  • On 6 July 2003, two suicide bombers killed 16 people at a rock concert at Tushino Airfield in Moscow. The two women had been acting suspiciously at the entrance to the festival and then tried to enter, but had been denied entry by the security guards. One of the women detonated her bomb immediately, the other one ten minutes later as evacuees were filing past. Police found a third bomb that was defused without causing harm.
  • In December 2003, a male and female suicide bomber killed 46 people and injured 100 others by detonating explosives on a packed commuter train, which had just left Yessentuki in Southern Russia. The woman is believed to have carried explosives in a bag, whereas the man had grenades strapped to his leg.
  • On 9 December 2003 a bomb exploded outside the “National” hotel in Moscow just a few 100 meters from the Moscow Kremlin. It is thought that the target was the State Duma building and that the bomb had detonated prematurely. Six people died and 13 were injured in the blast. The suicide bomber was later identified as Khadishat Mangeriyeva.
  • On 6 February 2004, Georgi Trofimov, a Russian bomb disposal officer, was killed as he tried to defuse a device at a Moscow cafe. The failed bomber, ethnic Ingush Zarema Muzhakhoyeva, was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment for terrorism in April 2004. In 2005, she participated in the trial of the Beslan hostage crisis terrorist Nur-Pashi Kulayev as a witness for the prosecution, but she withdrew all her statements about Kulayev that she made in pre-trial depositions and said she didn’t know he was a militant.
  • Two Russian passenger aircraft disasters in 2004 are believed to have been the work of the Black Widows. The smaller of the planes, a TU-134 which crashed near Tula had been carrying a Chechen woman called Amnat Nagayeva who had bought her ticket just an hour before the flight took off. The larger plane exploded near the city of Rostov killing 46 people. Among the wreckage, investigators found traces of hexogen, a powerful explosive. Another Chechen woman, Satsita Djerbikhanova was also a last-minute passenger on this flight.
  • On 1 September 2004, two Chechen women, Roza Nagayeva and Mairam Taburova, were involved in the attack on a Russian, North-Ossetian school (the Beslan school hostage crisis). The attack which killed 334 civilians, including 186 children, was masterminded by Shamil Basayev. According to some reports the Chechen women complained bitterly when they found out the target were children, where after they were blown up by remote.
  • On 29 March 2010, 37 people were killed when two suicide bombers detonated explosives on the Moscow subway. The attacks were linked to black widows by the Russian Government, although an investigation has yet to be undertaken.
  • On Monday, January 24, 2011, 35 were killed and 180 wounded in Domodedovo, Russia’s busiest airport. Although the identity of those responsible for carrying out the attacks has not been officially confirmed, initial reports suggest at least one Black Widow was involved, likely accompanied by a man.

I personally don’t agree with this kind of terrorist act killing innocent people. It’s happening all over the world unfortunately and is a heinous act from people choosing the easy way out for themselves. I feel sorry for these women also for being targeted by the Russian’s and that they lose their relatives and husbands in the conflict, but those hundreds and thousands of other people who died in the suicide attacks were civilians who didn’t have anything to do with the crime against the Chechen women. Just like in any suicide attack, it’s not the government who pays the price but the common man on the street.

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