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Investigators have identified one of the suicide bombers in Monday’s deadly attacks in the Moscow subway as the teenage widow of an Islamist leader from the North Caucasus, Russian officials said Friday.

The use of so-called black widows—women who lost husbands or other family members in years of fighting with Russian forces—has become a hallmark of separatist terrorism in the restive region in the last decade.

Both the bombers in Monday’s twin attacks were young women, officials said, though only one was identified publicly. She is the 17-year-old widow of an Islamist leader from Dagestan who was killed in a shootout with police on Dec. 31, according to security officials in the republic. The Federal Security Service said she detonated several kilograms of explosives that were strapped to her body in the Park Kultury metro station early Monday, killing at least 15 people in the second of the two attacks.

The twin bombings’ toll rose to 40 Friday, as an employee of Russia’s state arms exporter died in a Moscow hospital of wounds from the Park Kultury attack. The blasts, the first terror acts in the capital in six years, shook Russians’ sense of security and raised questions about the Kremlin’s claims to have brought the decades-long conflict in the region under control.

Speaking to legislative leaders Friday, President Dmitry Medvedev called for stiffer penalties for those who provide any aid to terrorists. He said the investigation is proceeding “fairly quickly,” but provided few details. Other officials have said the the participants have been identified. Interfax on Friday quoted unnamed sources close to the investigation as saying an apartment had been found near the Park Kultury station that the bombers used to prepare their attacks.

Chechen separatist leader Doku Umarov claimed responsibility for the attacks in a video released Wednesday. Officials haven’t confirmed he’s a suspect, however.

Mr. Umarov is blamed for a string of terrorist attacks in recent years, including the November bombing of a Moscow-St. Petersburg express train that killed 28. An advocate of fundamentalist Islamic state spanning Russia’s North Caucasus regions, he’s threatened more strikes in the heart of Russia.

Few details were available about the suspect in Monday’s bombings, and officials said reports conflicted on whether her last name was Abdurakhmova or Abdullayeva. Her first name, Dzhennet, is a popular one in the region, derived from the Arabic word for “paradise.”

Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, as well as other local media, published what they said were pictures of the young woman and her husband taken a year or more ago. They show a baby-faced girl in a black Islamic headscarf holding a pistol or a grenade. There was no official confirmation of the authenticity of the photos.

Local media also reported that she was from a small village and met her future husband, Dagestani Islamist leader Umalat Magomedov, through the Internet, but there was no official confirmation of that.

Female suicide bombers in Chechnya first appeared in 2000, as Russian troops began their second assault on the separatist region in less than a decade. Bomb-wrapped female fighters were among the 41 terrorists who took hundreds hostage in a Moscow theater in 2002. All the terrorists and over 100 of the hostages died when Russian forces stormed the building. Young women carrying bombs strapped to their bodies were also behind a string of attacks on rock-music festivals and the subway that terrorized Moscow in the summer of 2004.

A 2006 study of Chechen female bombers in more than 20 attacks, done by a Chechen academic and a professor from Georgetown University, found that the women were driven by trauma and revenge, said the Georgetown University professor, Anne Speckhard, who with her colleague interviewed relatives of women bombers. All the bombers studied, she said, had at least one close relative who was tortured, killed or disappeared in political violence, making them vulnerable to extremist ideology.

“The lethal mix is when traumatized victims in conflict zones are exposed to a terrorist ideology that provides short-lived psychological first aid, equips an individual to escape from his emotional pain, justifies violence and killing others along with the self,” she wrote in an emailed. WSJ

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