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16/09/2004 | The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya : "Chechnya’s Suicide Bombers: Desperate, Devout, or Deceived?" By John Reuter
|THE AMERICAN COMMITTEE FOR PEACE IN CHECHNYA |
Table of Contents
Section 1 Executive Summary 2-3
Section 2 Key Findings 4-5
Section 3 Chechnya’s Suicide Bombers: Desperate, Devout, or Deceived?
A. An Overview of Chechen Suicide Attacks 6-7
B. Attacks Against Military Targets 7-9
C. The Methodology of Chechen Suicide Terrorism 9-10
D. Targeted Assassination Attempts 11-12
E. Attacks Against Civilians 13-18
F. Theories of Suicide Terrorism 18-19
G. Suicide Attacks as a Strategic Weapon 19-21
H. Chechen Suicide Bombers: Motives and Rationale 21-24
I. Islam and Suicide Terrorism 24-26
J. The Prevalence of Female Suicide Bomber 26-28
K. Conclusions and Notes 28-33
Charts and Appendices
Figure 1: Chechen Suicide Bombings by Year
Figure 2: Numerical Breakdown of Chechen Suicide Bombers
Figure 3: Intended Target Type of Chechen Suicide Attacks
Figure 4: Disappearances and Civilian Killings in Chechnya
Appendix 1: Relevant Terrorist Attacks
Appendix 2: Claims of Responsibility
Now in its fifth year, the second Russo-Chechen War has deteriorated into a protracted stalemate where death and despair are the only clear victors. In Chechnya, the conflict has created a cultural and demographic crisis rivaling the tragedies witnessed in Bosnia and Kosovo. Years of war and social upheaval have left the people of Chechnya with nothing but misery. Throughout the second Chechen war, Russian Forces have radicalized the resistance and humiliated the populace by committing widespread human rights abuses against civilians. These actions, combined with the Kremlin’s unwillingness to negotiate with moderate members of the resistance, have continued the Chechen conflict and correspondingly engendered extremist tactics such as suicide terrorism.
Chechen suicide terrorism is an important topic of inquiry for several reasons:
Suicide terrorism is one of the least understood aspects of the second Russo-Chechen war. The most common explanations of Chechen suicide terrorism are either too restricted in their scope or too removed in their perspective. In an effort to provide reliable information, dispel certain myths, and offer much-needed context, the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC) has prepared this study. A number of studies have examined the worldwide proliferation of suicide terrorism on the macro level, but there have been no comprehensive attempts to investigate the specific phenomenon of Chechen suicide bombings. Taking into account individual case profiles, scholarly studies, and empirical analysis, this report seeks to fill that gap.
There are two main competing theories that attempt to explain why Chechen suicide bombings occur. Focusing upon selected suicide attacks, some observers claim that all Chechen suicide bombings are orchestrated by deranged religious extremists, who blackmail, drug, and coerce young women into committing heinous acts. While still others make the blanket claim that all Chechen suicide bombers carry out attacks autonomously, and are self-actuated by despair alone. This report seeks to dispel both of these myths by showing that there is no axiomatic explanation for Chechen suicide terrorism. The situation is more complex. Since 2000, there have been 23 Chechen-related suicide attacks in the Russian Federation, and the profiles of the suicide bombers have varied just as much as the circumstances surrounding the bombings.
However, all this is not to say that certain instructive patterns are not apparent in the phenomenon of Chechen suicide terrorism. The lowest common denominator shared by all Chechen suicide bombers is the despair and hopelessness spawned by the horrific conditions of the Russo-Chechen war. Most Chechen suicide bombers have lost loved ones in Russian ‘counter-terrorist’ operations or in fighting against Russian forces. Some cases documented in this report indicate that a few of Chechnya’s suicide bombers were recruited by manipulative orchestrators using radical Islamist rhetoric, but even in those instances, unbearable grief and hopeless despair have made the potential bombers (especially women) vulnerable to the advances of suicide terrorism recruiters.
Thus, while there can be no excuse for the abhorrent terrorist tactic of suicide bombing, Russia ultimately bears responsible for creating the underlying conditions that fuel suicide terrorism in Chechnya. Suicide bombings did not begin until the Second-Russo Chechen war, when Russian forces began systematically targeting Chechen civilians in so-called cleansing operations. If Moscow wants eschew another wave of suicide terrorism, then it must take a close look at the human catastrophe it has wrought in Chechnya. Ultimately, the Kremlin must come to understand that ‘counter-terrorism’ strategies, which employ abduction, torture, and lawless killing, only serve to radicalize the resistance and humiliate the population, thereby creating a fertile breeding ground for more terrorists. By marginalizing moderate voices in the Chechen resistance and denying hope to thousands of Chechen civilians, Russia has needlessly prolonged the war, prompting some to resort to radical measures, including suicide terrorism. In the final analysis, the road to peace in Chechnya and the prescription for stopping suicide terrorism are the same: peaceful reconciliation with moderate representatives of the Chechen leadership and an end to senseless violence against civilians.
The War in Chechnya
The Origins of Suicide Terrorism
The Dynamics of Chechen Suicide Bombings
Chechnya’s Suicide Bombers: Desperate, Devout, or Deceived?
“Can we expect people who are denied hope to act in moderation?”1
Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski
A Brief History of Chechen Suicide Attacks
From 1980 to 2000 the world witnessed a precipitous incline in the prevalence of suicide bombings. As terrorist groups came to recognize the effectiveness of suicide terrorism, it quickly became the tactic of choice for some terrorist groups and radicalized separatist movements.
Despite its popular ascendancy in the 1990s, suicide terrorism was conspicuously absent from the Russian Federation until almost nine months after the beginning of the Second Russo-Chechen war in September 1999. Notwithstanding the carnage wrought during the First Chechen War and the purported rise of Islamic extremism in the interwar period, Chechen insurgents conducted relatively few traditional acts of terrorism and no suicide attacks before 2000. By the middle of 2000 major conventional military operations had ceased, and the conflict was digressing into a protracted guerrilla struggle. Over the following years there were 23 suicide attacks in Russia and Chechnya.
The highest concentration of suicide attacks was in the summer of 2003, when a much publicized wave of suicide bombings swept out of Chechnya and into Moscow. This spate of suicide bombings began in earnest not long after the March 23 referendum on the adoption of a new Chechen constitution and after suicide bombings garnered international headlines in Iraq. The second largest concentration of suicide bombings was in the summer of 2000, when Chechen suicide bombers used trucks filled with explosives to attack military targets in Chechnya. The majority of the bombers in this time period were males.
Although, the most publicized of Russia’s suicide attacks took place in Moscow, Russia’s suicide attacks have occurred predominantly in Chechnya (14 of 23). Four additional attacks took place in neighboring North Caucasus regions, and four other attacks occurred in Moscow. Although the logistical restraints of striking far away Moscow might inhibit some separatists from committing suicide attacks there, it is more probable to assume that Chechen suicide terrorists are more inclined to strike at nearby targets that have a close link to the conflict in Chechnya.
Chechen suicide attacks can be roughly divided into three different categories, sorted by intended target type. The first and most notorious brand of Chechen suicide attack has been directed at civilians, often with no readily apparent political or military motive. Although only six out of 23 attacks were directed against civilians, these attacks have drawn a lion’s share of the publicity generated by Chechen suicide terrorism. As this report demonstrates, many of these attacks have been peculiar aberrations from the typical pattern of Chechen suicide terrorism. There have also been sporadic suicide bombings targeting specific individuals, and several bombings have been intended for pro-Moscow government installations in the North Caucasus. But by far the largest number of suicide attacks have been aimed at military installations in and around Chechnya. A notable wave of such attacks took place in the second year of the war, but even after 2000, military installations have remained a primary target for Chechen suicide bombers.
Attacks Against Military Targets
On June 6 of 2000, Chechnya experienced its first suicide bombing when 22-year-old Khava Barayeva, cousin of well-known Chechen field commander Arbi Barayev, drove a truck filled with explosives into the temporary headquarters of an OMON detachment in the village of Alkhan Yurt. Barayeva was the first in what would become a long list of female suicide bombers, who ‘sacrificed’ themselves. With time, Barayeva would become the popularized archetype of Chechen female bombers or shakhidi, as they are known in Russia. Her ‘star power’ was so great among some elements of the Chechen resistance that she was immortalized in a song by famous Chechen songwriter Timur Mutsaraeva.2
In the summer of 2000, there were several other suicide bombings directed at military and police targets in Chechnya. In each of these instances the bombers drove vehicles filled with explosives into their targets. The climax of this suicide wave was a series of six suicide attacks that took place across Chechnya on July 2. The fact that these bombings so closely resembled one another and were almost simultaneous suggests that they were highly coordinated and well planned. The attacks killed 33 civilians and military personnel and injured
another 81. Although the drivers of the suicide vehicles were never positively identified, Rossiskaya Gazeta reported that the driver of one of the vehicles was a prominent Chechen rebel known only as Movladi.3 Despite the relative effectiveness of these systematic attacks, Chechen insurgents never again coordinated large-scale suicide attacks over a short period of time.
The end of 2000 was marked by another suicide attack that was, in many ways, similar to previous attacks, but also novel in its outcome. In December of that year, a truck packed with explosives smashed through checkpoints and blockposts on its way to a MVD building in Grozny. The “Ural” military vehicle was eventually brought to a halt after Russian soldiers opened fire, puncturing the tires and forcing it to collide with a concrete barrier.4 Upon approaching the vehicle Russian soldiers were stunned to find a girl lying wounded on the bench seat. The young woman was later identified as Mareta Duduyeva.
According to the pro-government daily Rossiskaya Gazeta, Duduyeva claimed that she had been recruited by the widow of Chechen field commander Magomet Tsaragaev and physically forced to drive the truck by the rebel commander. According to her father, the young girl had not lost any close relatives in the Chechen wars and had never been religiously devout.5 The paper also speculated that rebel recruiters may have blackmailed her with compromising information about her past. Although there was surprisingly little press coverage of Duduyeva’s attempted suicide, her alleged transformation into a shakhid would nonetheless become the prototype for a prevalent Russian view on the origin of female suicide bombings.6 Articulated clearly by Yuliya Yuzik, a journalist who has studied Chechen female suicide bombers, this view holds that the majority of Chechnya’s female suicide bombers are the unfortunate victims of blackmail, kidnapping, and manipulation.7 However, as later suicide bombings would demonstrate, this view is analytically unsound as a complete explanation for Chechnya’s suicide bombing.1
Mareta Duduyeva’s heart-rending ordeal was followed closely by another female suicide attack in the winter of 2002. On February 5, 2002 Zarema Inarkaeva carried a duffel bag filled with explosives into the Zavodsky Military station in Grozny. Inarkaeva reportedly infiltrated the military checkpoints by engaging in conversation with the guards. Once inside, the 15-year-old Chechen girl tried and failed to detonate her explosives and the weakened explosion injured only Inarkaeva. In contrast to the case of Luiza Gazueva, Florian Hassel of Frankfurter Rundschau asserts that Inarkaeva was kidnapped prior to her attack.8 The German daily also claims that Inarkaeva was drugged by her captors and
1 Most notably, the case of Luiza Gadzhieva would debunk this line of analysis. Gadzhieva’s case will be examined elsewhere in this report. physically coerced into carrying out the attack. Intriguingly, this otherwise obscure report on Zarema Inarkaeva’s abduction was translated and posted on the Kremlin’s state-run Chechen news website.9
For nearly a year after Inarkaeva’s failed attempt, there was not another suicide bombing at a military installation in Chechnya. However, on June 5, 2003 another bombing revived the trend, when an unidentified Chechen woman with explosives hidden under her clothing threw herself under a bus near the North Ossetian town of Mozdok, staging point for all of Russia’s military operations in the North Caucasus. The bus was carrying pilots that flew sorties against targets in Chechnya from a nearby airbase. The young Chechen woman who perpetrated the attack was never identified.
Throughout the summer of 2003, suicide attacks against civilians in Moscow grabbed headlines in most Russian and Western newspapers. However, in August and September of that year, two more suicide operations against military targets in the North Caucasus reminded observers that military targets were still a high priority for Chechen implementers of suicide terrorism. On August 1, an unidentified male suicide bomber drove a truck filled with explosives into a military hospital in Mozdok. The attack killed 50 and injured 79. As with other suicide attacks the truck was filled with ammonium nitrate and driven through military checkpoints. The attack was the third most deadly suicide attack in Russian history and the first bombing perpetrated by a lone male since Djabrail Sergeyev blew up a federal military checkpoint in June 2000.
The Mozdok attack was followed by an attack on September 16 directed against the FSB headquarters in Magas, Ingushetia. The blast killed only 2 people but injured another 25. This time the circumstances were similar to earlier bombings in Mozdok, Grozny, and Znamenskoye. A Russian military truck filled with explosives driven by unidentified suicide bombers. In this instance, not even the gender of the dual suicide bombers was determined.
The Methodology of Chechen Suicide Bombing
Chechen shakhidi have employed a variety of methods when carrying out their attacks. Russian military trucks filled with explosives were the most popular method used to carry out large-scale attacks on major military and government installations in the Caucasus. Representatives of the Russian military have been humiliated by accounts of complicity between Russian troops and Chechen rebels, as insurgents have reportedly acquired trucks and weapons from Russian soldiers.10 The second most common method used by shakhidi has been the infamous suicide belt. Packed with plastic explosive, hand grenades, and/or TNT, these devices are also typically filled with nuts, bolts, metal strips, and/or ball bearings to inflict maximum casualties. In addition to these two methods, suicide attackers have used smaller vehicles and bags filled with explosives.
Attacks against Government Targets
Using ‘suicide trucks,’ Chechen separatists have made three audacious attacks against government installations in the North Caucasus. The first occurred on December 27, 2002, only two months after the infamous Dubrovka hostage taking. In this attack two Chechen shakhidi drove a Kamaz truck filled with explosives into the Moscow-backed Chechen Cabinet building in Grozny. The blast killed 72 people and injured more than 200. In a staggering twist, the suicide vehicle was driven by a father, Gelani Tumriyev, and his 17-year-old daughter, Alina Tumriyeva. Gelani Tumriyev, a native of Chechnya, spent most of his life working as a veterinarian in Yaroslavl, a provincial Russian city north of Moscow. While in Yaroslavl in the 1980s, Tumriyev fathered two children by different Russian women and settled into a rather uneventful family life. At the start of the first Chechen war Tumiryev returned to his homeland, and according to the Russian daily Izvestiya, turned to Wahabbism.11 In the summer of 1997, Tumriyev kidnapped his daughter Alina and his son Ilyas from their mother in Russia, taking them back to Chechnya with him.12 Ilyas signed on to fight with Chechen forces and died in 2000, while Alina lived with her father in Achkhoy-Martan.13
Little is known about what happened in the intervening years, but in December 2002 young Alina and her father reportedly traveled to Stavropol krai to prepare for the suicide attack.14 Once there, the pair met with the organizers of the attack, who provided them with a truck and the explosives. Witnesses of the attack insisted that the driver and passenger had ‘Slavic’ features, but such reports were met with skepticism. In the end, the witnesses turned out to be partially correct, and the December 2002 attacks lent further credence to the fact that there is no common profile for all of Chechnya’s suicide bombers.
Following the Grozny Cabinet bombings there was a five-month lull in Chechen terrorist attacks. However, the quiescence was broken on May 12 when three suicide bombers drove an explosives laden truck into the administrative building in the Chechen town of Znammenskoye. The attack and intended target closely resembled the December attacks, and there were a similar number of victims. Russian deputy prosecutor general Sergie Fridinsky claimed that the attack was perpetrated by three suicide drivers, one of which was a woman.15 The blast also damaged a nearby FSB headquarters, which was responsible for coordinating FSB ‘counter-terrorist’ operations in all of Chechnya. After the attacks Russian officials were quoted as saying that the tactic of suicide bombing was more typical of ‘foreign elements,’ an assessment that would be proven woefully inaccurate in the months following.16
Less than two weeks after the bus bombing in Mozdok and only a month after the Znamenskoye bombing, a Chechen shakhid struck for the second time at a government compound in Grozny. This time the attack was directed at the cluster of government buildings in Grozny that include special police headquarters and the Justice Ministry. The explosive laden truck, which exploded prematurely near the compound, killed six people and injured another 36. The method and target of the attacks were comparable to the Grozny Government compound attacks in December 2002 and the Znamenskoye attacks in May 2003. Interestingly, these attacks came only days before the temporary Chechen parliament was due to meet in a newly constructed Parliament building, built to replace the one destroyed by Gelani Tumriyev and his daughter in December.17
The remains of a man and woman, believed to be the suicide bombers, were found on the scene, and during the investigation, the passport of 19-year-old Zakir Abdulzaliyev was found at the same site. 18 The lead Russian investigator on the scene, Col. Viktor Barnash, averred that Abdulzaliyev was influenced by Wahhabism and trained in a Chechen saboteur camp.19 It is unclear how the investigator could have surmised this after examining only the scene of the attack.
Targeted Assassination Attempts
In addition to attacks against military and government targets, specific individuals have been the target of several prominent Chechen suicide attacks. One of the most significant of these was the suicide attack of Luiza Gadzhieva. The attack occurred in November 2001, nearly one year after the ill-fated attempt of Mareta Duduyeva. On the 29th of that month, in the Chechen town of Urus Martan, 23-year-old Luiza Gazueva approached District Commandant Geidar Gadzhiev and asked meekly: “Do you recognize me?20 ” “I have no time to talk to you” came the reply from the District Commandant.21 At this point, young Gazueva detonated an explosive device strapped to her body, killing two Russian soldiers and injuring two more. Gadzhiev died from his wounds days later. Gazueva had lost a husband, two brothers, and a cousin in Russian “counter terrorist operations.22 ” According to several reports, Gadzhiev personally headed up many of these operations and participated in the torture of some of the abductees.23 In addition, some reports assert that Gadzhiev had personally summoned Luiza to witness her husband’s torture and execution.24 Despite the clear motive for retribution, some still claimed that Gazueva was recruited and duped into carrying out the terrorist attack. Whether this is true or not, the plausible evidence pointing to Gadzhiev’s involvement in the death of Gazueva’s relatives leads one to think that convincing her to assassinate Gadzhiev would not require much manipulation.
Another apparent suicide assassination took place near the beginning of the suicide wave in the summer of 2003. Only two days after the Znamenskoye attacks, Russia was rocked by another suicide bombing in Chechnya. On May 14, 2003 two, possibly three female shakhidi strapped explosives to their bodies and attacked a religious procession in Iliskhan-Yurt, Chechnya. The attack was presumably aimed at Chechen president Akhmed Kadyrov, who was in attendance, but the bombers only managed to kill several of his bodyguards. Prima-News reported that the lead suicide bomber, Shakhidat Baymuradova, had set out on the morning of May 14 to deliver an envelope to Kadyrov.25 It is not known whether Kadyrov knew about the ill-fated delivery beforehand and decided to flee the scene.
What is known is that Shakhidat Baymuradova was a 46 year old widow who fought with her husband in the field until he was killed in 1999.26 Baymuradova also lost her elder son in fighting with the Russians, and Federal forces had reportedly abducted her younger son a short time before the attacks.27 The second bomber, Zulai Abdulazakova, was killed in the blast from Baymuradova’s explosion and failed to detonate her suicide belt.
The Iliskhan-Yurt incident was not the last time the Kadyrov family would be the target of a suicide bomber. A few weeks after the infamous Zarema Muzhikhoyeva incident a young Chechen girl would attempt to assassinate Ramzan Kadyrov in Grozny. However, this failed attempt attracted only a fraction of the media attention that was lavished on Muzhikhoyeva’s attempt. This is noteworthy because this suicide attempt was more reminiscent of a ‘typical’ Chechen suicide bombing, especially since the target was political. According to witnesses, on July 27 a young Chechen girl approached a building in Southeast Grozny, where Kadyrov was reviewing security officers. When she drew near to the building, security guards halted her, at which point she detonated an explosive device strapped to her body. Soon after the attacks, investigative journalists determined that the young shakhidka was Mariam Tashukhadzhiyeva, sister of Ruslan Mangeriyev, a separatist fighter in a neighboring district.28 Chechen security troops loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov had killed Mangariyev some time before the suicide attack. The explosion killed only the young bomber and injured one security guard. Unlike the attacks in Moscow weeks before, this attack had a real military/political target, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Attacks Against Civilians
The intermittent spate of suicide bombings that had taken place before late 2002 did not leave a profound impression on the Russian people, and the Russian press paid scant attention to the slowly developing phenomenon of Chechen suicide attacks. Until October 2002, none of the attacks had occurred outside of Chechnya, most of them had been directed at military targets, and comparatively few lives were claimed. In early 2002, conventional terrorist attacks, such as a devastating mine explosion at a Victory Day parade in Kaspiysk, Dagestan, continued to attract the most headlines. On October 23 2002, however, Russia’s popular perception of suicide attacks changed dramatically when Chechen extremists seized over 800 hostages at the Dubrovka Theater in central Moscow. This attack marked the first time that Chechen extremists had struck in the heart of Moscow and the first time Russia civilians were the explicit target of a Chechen terrorist operation. The raids were purportedly orchestrated by Shamil Basayev and carried out by one of his Islamic terrorist organizations, Riyadh-as-Salihin.29 Indeed, this would be the first attack claimed by Shamil Basayev. In 2003, on the other hand, Basayev and/or his coterie took credit for 7 out of 12 attacks.
Forty-nine individuals took part in the Dubrovka hostage taking, 19 of which were female shakhidi. As the hostage takers made patently clear in televised interviews, the shakhidi wore suicide belts connected to hand held detonators and were ready to blow themselves up at any time. In the end, most of the women’s suicide belts failed to function properly, and they harmed only themselves when Security Services personnel stormed the theater.
The events and outcome of the Dubrovka hostage taking are now almost common knowledge, but the story of the female suicide bombers that accompanied the hostage takers has been much less scrutinized. The shakhidi ranged in age from 16 to 26 and were all of Chechen origin. Profiles of the bombers compiled by Moskovskie Novosti journalists reveal that most of the girls had relatives that were close to the radical Islamic wing of the Chechen resistance.30 Some of the girls came from so called Wahabbi families while others came from secular homes and independently made connections with fundamentalist militants. The majority of those profiled had lost relatives in the war or in Russian ‘counter-terrorist’ operations, a fact that is confirmed by the testimonials of former hostages who talked with their captors. Many of these former hostages reported that their female captors spoke at length about the horrors of the Chechen war.31
The planning and execution of the Nord-Ost attacks sheds light on an important aspect of suicide terrorism in Chechnya. All of the girls left their homes weeks before the attacks presumably to receive training and preparation ahead of their trip.32 The logistical complexity of recruiting, training, and transporting nearly 20 female suicide bombers to Moscow speaks to the advanced organizational and recruiting capacities of the Chechen extremists. The attacks were clearly organized with the distinct purpose or attracting support from potential sympathizers and/or attention from the Kremlin and the Russian public.33 Before, during, and after the raids female suicide bombers were shown wearing veils, holding Arabic banners, and proclaiming their allegiance to Allah. The rhetoric of the bombers was filled with references to the religious struggle between the Russian ‘infidels’ and the Muslims.34 In fact, videotaped statements by the female bombers contain scant reference to Chechens, frequently referring to the Chechen people simply as ‘Muslims.’35
Needless to say, the Arabic garb worn by the bombers and the Jihadist rhetoric espoused by the hostage takers is not indigenous to Chechnya. Furthermore, while the use of Koran-flaunting Islamist rhetoric is common among Chechen extremist leaders, it rarely supplants language about the Chechen liberation cause. Similarly, the ostentatious display of fundamentalist rhetoric has been a rare occurrence among Chechen suicide attacks. Thus, the case of the Dubrovka suicide bombers is truly unique among Chechen suicide attacks.
The Dubrovka hostage taking made a profound impact on the Russian populace. Russian media covered the attacks assiduously, and the role of the shakhidi became a topic of much scrutiny. If those who orchestrated the Dubrovka attacks were seeking attention, then they certainly achieved their goal, and in a sense, suicide attacks had been vindicated as a means to affect a psychological impact in Russia. Due in part to this fact, Russia would ‘fall victim’ to an unprecedented wave of suicide attacks over the next year.
Before July 2003, Chechen shakhidi had struck outside of the North Caucasus only once. And although the Russian media was doing a more than ample job of sensationalizing Chechnya’s ‘black widows,’ most Russians felt far removed from the danger posed by Chechen suicide terrorists. Thus, when dual suicide bombers targeted civilians in Moscow on July 5 Russian society was thoroughly stunned. The attack occurred when two young Chechen girls were stopped by security guards at separate entrances outside a rock festival at the Tushino airfield near Moscow. Both of the young women had explosives and metal shards strapped to their bodies. According to reports, the first woman’s explosives failed to detonate properly, and she killed only herself and a bystander. Minutes later the second bomber detonated her belt, killing 15 concert goers and injuring 30. In the aftermath of the attacks, an internal Russian passport belonging to 20-year-old Zulikhan Elikhadzhiyeva was found on the scene. Russian authorities were quick to announce that Elikhadzhieva was the first Chechen bomber. The second bomber was never identified. According to Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times, Elikhadhzhieva did not have a personal revenge story typical of other so-called ‘Black Widows.’36 She had not lost any close relatives in the war and her house was still standing in 2003. She had studied in the local vocational school and conveyed the image of well-adjusted youth (as much as a young girl can be well-adjusted in war-torn Chechnya). However, her half-brother, Danilkhan, was a locally known Chechen rebel, who went by the alias Afghan.37 Five months before the Tushino attacks, Danilkhan kidnapped Zulikhan and took her to an undisclosed location. Naturally, some have speculated that Danilkhan orchestrated the attacks and manipulated Zulikhan into acting as a ‘live bomb.’38
For many observers, the Tushino suicide attacks appeared out of place. The bombings marked the first time that Chechen separatists had attacked Russian civilians with no apparent motive. There were no demands or political aims, not even a claim of responsibility. Although Shamil Basayev had inveterately claimed responsibility for almost every terrorist attack in 2003, the prominent Chechen rebel refrained from taking credit for the Tushino incident. Meanwhile, with alarming alacrity, the Russian authorities seized on the “notion of a Kamikaze unit to claim that foreigners are drugging and brainwashing the women.”39 Indeed, the discovery of Zulikhan’s internal passport on the scene, combined with the fact that her family had escaped significant harm in the Chechen war and the fact that her half-brother was a known Chechen rebel, seemed an all too perfect scenario for Russian intelligence agents seeking to vilify the Chechen resistance. To Pavel Felgenhauer of The Moscow Times, the bombings were eerily similar to the 1999 apartment building bombings that precipitated Russia’s invasion of Chechnya and the 2002 Dubrovka hostage taking.40 In all of these cases, the Russian authorities, whether they orchestrated the incidents or not, sought to use the attacks as a way of maligning the mainstream Chechen resistance and painting the conflict in an extremist light.
As if conspiracy theorists did not have enough to surfeit their appetite for eye-brow raising events, another ‘atypical’ suicide attack took place in Moscow only five days after the Tushino bombing. On July 10, 22-year-old Zarema Muzhikoyeva entered a café on Moscow’s Tverskaya Street carrying a bomb-filled bag. Some reports claim that Muzhikhoyeva unsuccessfully tried to detonate the bomb, while other reports state that the young Chechen simply lost her resolve, but in any case, Muzhikhoyeva failed to carry out the attack and was captured trying to flee from the café. An FSB bomb diffusion expert was later killed trying to dismantle the explosive device.
The Russian authorities now had in their custody a live suicide bomber. The Russians had captured suicide bombers alive before (e.g. the case of Mareta Duduyeva), but this time it was different. The Russians now made Muzhikhoyeva available to the press and widely publicized her confessions. In fact, an informant that the FSB placed in Muzhikhoyeva’s cell was even allowed to publish her testimonials.41 Not unexpectedly, Muzhikhoyeva’s interviews, confessions, and testimonials are inconsistent. However, underlying all of her statements is the claim that she was kidnapped and forced to carry out the suicide attack virtually against her will. She also claims that she was indoctrinated and trained with other suicide bombers at a camp outside of Moscow, where she met Zulikhan Elikhadzhieva. Indeed, FSB officials claim that information gleaned from Muzhikhoyeva during interrogations led them to the discovery of a cache of weapons and ‘so-called’ suicide belts in a town outside of Moscow.42
Also arising out of the Muzhikhoyeva affair was the popular notion of ‘Black Fatima’. According to Muzhikhoyeva, a middle aged Chechen woman was responsible for recruiting Chechen suicide bombers. Investigators subsequently dubbed the dark figure ‘Black Fatima’ in reference to a popular female Islamic name. In her interrogation sessions, Muzhikhoyeva identified a photograph of the mysterious woman. Russian and Western media then sensationalized the concept of Black Fatima and the woman quickly became an integral part of the popular lore on Chechen female suicide bombers. However, in a February interview with Izvestiya, Muzhikhoyeva admitted that she had fabricated the entire story of Black Fatima.43
Much like the Tushino bombings, Muzhikhoyeva’s attempted suicide attack had no apparent political motivation, and no one stepped forward to claim responsibility. Clearly, the FSB granted the media such extensive access to Muzhikhoyeva because her story meshed so well with the FSB’s version of suicide terrorism in Russia. It seems that between Mareta Duduyeva’s capture in 2000 and Zarema Muzhikhoyeva’s arrest in 2003 the FSB learned how to employ the mass media to achieve an end, i.e. the vilification of Chechen separatists. Their task was made that much easier by a media that was frothing at the chance to sensationalize accounts of Chechen shakhidi.
After the Magas bombing in September, there were no documented suicide attacks in the fall of 2003. On December 5, 2003 suicide attacks against civilians once again struck fear into the hearts of Russian civilians when a suicide bomb tore through a commuter train near Yessentuki in Stavropol krai. The attack killed and/or injured dozens of civilians. Once again there was no clear political or military target for this attack, but unlike the summertime attacks directed at civilians, this attack left no ‘helpful’ clues for the FSB to embellish and propagate. Despite reports that two female ‘suicide bombers’ jumped from the train before the explosion, evidence collected at the scene, combined with eyewitness reports, confirms that the explosion was the work of a lone male suicide terrorist.44 Witnesses report that a suspicious individual carrying a large athletic bag entered the second car of the train at the Bolshoi Ugol station. If the reports are reliable, then this would mark the second consecutive suicide attack perpetrated by a lone male. The attacks occurred one day after Russia’s all-important State Duma elections. Per the usual routine, Shamil Basayev would later claim responsibility for the attacks.
Only five days after the State Duma elections another suicide blast shook Russia. This time the attack occurred in the very center of Moscow as dual female suicide bombers set off explosions near the National Hotel. The suicide bombers used suicide belts packed with ball bearings to kill six people and injure another 44. Witnesses reported seeing two women with ‘Caucasian features’ in fur coats ask for directions to the State Duma building minutes prior to the attacks.45 Officials later surmised that the bombs detonated ‘on their own’ and that the National Hotel was not the intended target. Although the bombings occurred closer to the ‘heart’ of Moscow than any previous attack, they received comparatively little press coverage.
Almost six months after the attacks, two versions emerged on the identity of the suicide bomber(s). On August 10 investigative journalists from Kommersant reported that the primary suicide bomber was Khadishat Mangeriyeva, widow of seperatist leader Ruslan Mangeriyev.46 Months earlier Mangeriyev’s sister had blown herself up outside a police station in Grozny, where Ramzan Kadyrov was reviewing troops. Around that same time, however, the FSB released information establishing another woman, Khedizha Magomadova, as the primary suicide attacker, while still another report claimed that Madomadova was actually Mangeriyeva’s wife and that the two separately identified suicide bombers were actually the same person.47 Meanwhile, no information has become available on the identity of the second bomber. Whatever the case may be, the recent revelations about the bomber’s identity seem to offer more questions than answers.
The attacks near the National Hotel are particularly vexing for a number of reasons. If suicide bombers are trained for months before hand, then it seems unlikely that they would need to stop and ask for directions. But on the other hand, if the women acted more independently and were actuated by personal grievance, then it is doubtful they would attack a political (or even civilian) target in the heart of Moscow hundreds of miles from Chechnya. It is also interesting to note that, in contrast to the ‘atypical’ Moscow summertime bombings, Shamil Basayev promptly claimed responsibility for these attacks.48 As of this writing, the last suicide attack to occur in Russia took place on February 6, 2004 when a lone suicide bomber detonated an explosion on a Moscow subway car. Forensic scientists determined that a suicide terrorist carried out the act, after they found a toggle switch embedded in the body of one of the deceased.49 The bombing claimed 41 lives and injured 130. In a strange turn of events, Shamil Basayev denied responsibility for the bombing. Basayev had claimed responsibility for many of the recent suicide bombings in Moscow, but this time a previously unknown Chechen militant group calling itself Gazoton Murdash took credit for the blast.50 The group declared that it had orchestrated the suicide bombing in retribution for Russian cleansing operations in Chechnya.
The suicide attack prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to reiterate his policy of non-negotiation with ‘terrorists,’ and in a similar vein, Russian officials used the attacks a springboard for casting additional anathema on Chechen resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov. One week later, former Chechen president Zelimkhan Yandarbiev was killed by Russian special agents in Qatar, and on March 14 President Vladimir Putin scored a resounding victory in Russia’s Presidential elections .
Theories of Chechen Suicide Terrorism
There is no single profile of a Chechen suicide bomber. Their motives and methods are as multifarious as their backgrounds. Many observers axiomatically assume that the root causes of Chechen suicide terrorism are easily identifiable, but this is simply not the case. Noted Russian war-correspondent Anna Politkovskaya, for instance, asserts that Chechen women need no motivation apart from their own grief and despair. In her estimation, many grief-stricken Chechen women are virtually pre-assembled suicide attack units that independently volunteer for the role of suicide bombers.51 Indeed, such an interpretation finds ample support in the cases of Luiza Gazueva and the young woman who blew herself up under the military bus in Mozdok. However, Politikovskaya’s explanation cannot fully explain incidents such as the Dubrovka hostage taking and Zarema Muzhikhoyeva.
Opponents of Politkovskaya’s use such incidents to claim that Chechen suicide bombers are systematically abducted, brainwashed, and forced to carry out terrorist attacks. They often claim that abductors use psycho-tropic drugs to control the women. While there have supposedly been traces of narcotics found in the bodies of some suicide bombers and captured shakhidi like Zarema Muzhikhoyeva, the evidence is sporadic and ultimately unconvincing. It is illogical to think that Chechen recruiters could force women to commit heinous acts through coercion and doping alone. The case of Zarema Muzhikhoyeva is particularly pernicious to our understanding of female suicide bombings because, as the only well publicized living suicide bomber, some analysts and journalists have drawn almost all of their knowledge of suicide bombing from her confession and personal statements. While Muzhikhoyeva certainly represents an invaluable reservoir of information, her case should not be the basis for all inquiry into the Chechen suicide terrorism phenomenon. This is especially true given the unusual nature of her particular case.
In the final analysis, as the remainder of this report will demonstrate, Politkovskaya and her opponents are both right and wrong. There have been cases in which it seems that the sole motivation was revenge and grief (e.g. Luiza Gazueva and Shakhidat Baymuradova), but there have also been instances in which the bomber seems to have been skillfully manipulated (e.g. Mareta Duduyeva and Zarema Inarkaeva). However, the vast majority of suicide bombings clearly contain elements of both, as the desperate situation of women in Chechnya necessarily precipitates their vulnerability to extremist inclinations. Naturally, these cultivated extremist inclinations are often misinterpreted as forced indoctrination or brainwashing.
Chechen Suicide Bombings as a Strategic Weapon
Why has the pattern of Chechen suicide terrorism developed in such a way? What accounts for the predominance of females among Chechen suicide terrorists? What motivates a potential shakhid to make the leap into martyrdom? To find answers to these types of questions, perhaps it necessary to answer some other questions about the purpose and origins of Chechen suicide terrorism. Most importantly, why did Chechen insurgents turn to suicide terrorism in the first place?
Terrorism, according to Jessica Stern, can be “defined as an act or threat of violence against noncombatants with the objective of exacting revenge, intimidating, or otherwise influencing an audience.”52 Terrorism became a prevalent tactic of the Chechen extremists only after the Second Russo-Chechen war was underway. Not long after the beginning of the conflict some radical insurgents recognized that terrorism was the most effective option remaining to them for impacting events and drawing attention to their cause. Chechen suicide attacks grew out of the extremists’ desire to “intimidate and influence an audience” more effectively, and as the previous two decades have shown, suicide terrorism is the best way to achieve these goals.
From 1980 to 2001, there were 188 suicide attacks worldwide, the majority of which occurred in Sri Lanka and the Middle East.53 In a self-perpetuating 19
fashion, the sheer number and effectiveness of suicide attacks over the past 25 years has spawned a global wave of suicide terrorism that shows no signs of subsiding. Terrorists have learned that suicide attacks are cheaper as well as easier to plan and execute. Moreover, by “increasing the likelihood of mass casualties and extensive damage” they affect a greater psychological and strategic impact on the public and media.54
A majority of Chechen related suicide bombings have been directed at military and/or government targets, while only five attacks have been directed solely at civilians. In contrast, non-suicide Chechen-related terrorist attacks have consistently targeted civilians since the beginning of the war. One reason for this may be the effectiveness of suicide bombers. As Dr. Boaz Ganor at the Institute for Counter Terrorism states:
In a suicide attack, as soon as the terrorist has set off on his mission his success is virtually guaranteed. It is extremely difficult to counter suicide attacks once the terrorist is on his way to the target; even if the security forces do succeed in stopping him before he reaches the intended target, he can still activate the charge and cause damage.55
In addition, suicide attacks require no escape rout planning or deposit preparation.56 Thus, Chechen insurgents have found that suicide terrorism is the most effective method of reaching hard and high profile targets in and around Chechnya. As further proof of this fact, there have been no significant ‘conventional’ terrorist attacks against major military or government installations since the beginning of the second Russo-Chechen war. Only suicide attacks have been used to reach these targets.
If the goal of Chechen extremists is to inflict human casualties in order to send a message, then suicide attacks have been immensely successful in Russia and Chechnya. Suicide bombings have claimed the lives of 361 Russian citizens and injured 1518. The average number of deaths per suicide bombing in Russia is approximately 16, while the average number for ‘conventional’ terrorist attacks is les than 10.
Thus, most suicide terror campaigns imply a certain strategic rationale. According to Robert Pape, a leading researcher on suicide terrorism, “Most suicide terrorism is undertaken as a strategic effort directed toward achieving particular political goals; it is not simply the product of irrational individuals or an expression of fanatical hatreds.”57 For implementers, suicide terrorism has two mutually reinforcing purposes—to coerce opponents and to attract financial, moral, or substantive support.58 This assessment seems to hold true for the Chechen case. As the evidence in this report indicates, the majority of Chechnya’s suicide attacks were coordinated and well-planned attacks aimed at achieving a strategic goal. The strategic aim of the Chechen orchestrators is probably a combination of a genuine desire to liberate the Chechen homeland and the necessity to attract supporters, recognition, and funding to continue their efforts. It could also be the work of egocentric opportunists in the radical wing of the Chechen resistance who, for their own personal benefit, seek to prolong the Chechen war by radicalizing the conflict. The strategic imperatives of suicide terrorism may help explain why there has been a recent decline in suicide bombings in Russia. It is possible to think that calculating implementers realized that suicide terrorism was not achieving the ambitious goals that they had envisioned.
Unfortunately, it is well beyond the scope of this paper to make a final judgment on the true strategic imperatives of Shamil Basayev or any other possible sponsor of suicide attacks. However, one thing is certain; whether Chechen extremists are seeking to drive the Russians from their homeland, attract attention from possible supporters, or advance radicalized agendas, they believe (or once believed) that suicide terrorism could be one of the most effective tools for attaining these goals. Taking cues from the ‘successful’ suicide campaigns of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Al-Qaeda, Chechen extremists came to view suicide terrorism as their last best option.59
Chechen Suicide Bombers: Motives and Rationale
While the above analysis might help us to understand the theoretical logic behind a Chechen suicide campaign, it does not help us explain how such a campaign could practically begin and sustain itself. Clearly, leading Chechen extremists might see it as advantageous to initiate a suicide campaign, but why would ‘ordinary’ Chechens sign on to become suicide bombers. In the Chechen case there is an especially important dichotomy between the strategic logic of the campaign and the private rationale of the individual attacker. In other words, the motivations of the recruit and the recruiter are vitually separate issues. This might come as a shock to those who say that Chechen female suicide bombers act independently out of rage and hopelessness. However, it is fairly clear that even those Chechen women who were completely self-actuated by vengeance and despair had some contact point or coordinator. As Pape reminds us, “The vast majority of suicide terrorist attacks are not isolated or random attacks by individual fanatics but, rather, occur in clusters as part of a larger campaign by an organized group to achieve a specific political goal.”60 The evidence cited in this report supports this conclusion.
But all this is not to say that ‘ordinary’ Chechen suicide bombers, especially females, are part and parcel of some well-conceived strategy to topple the Russian government and attract funding. As this report has shown, female suicide terrorists are only the executioners, not the planners. Thus, the question arises: Why do sizable numbers of Chechens volunteer or submit to becoming suicide terrorists?
If we heed the words of many in the current Bush and Putin administrations, then the answer might be that the bombers are deranged maniacs bent on the destruction of Western values and freedoms. However, numerous sociological and psychological studies of terrorists have concluded that “suicide terrorists on the whole have no appreciable psychopathology and are often wholly committed to what they believe to be devout moral principles.”61 Furthermore, most “suicide terrorists exhibit no socially dysfunctional attributes (fatherless, friendless, jobless) or suicidal symptoms…Recruits are generally well adjusted in their families and liked by peers and often more educated and economically better off than their surrounding population.”62 While it is true many of the Chechen suicide bombers were fatherless and jobless, most did not exhibit any preexisting (i.e. before the trauma of the war) psychological dysfunctions or homicidal inclinations. It is also true that none of the identified Chechen suicide bombers were socially or economically marginalized relative to the surrounding Chechen population.
So the question remains: what prompted the proliferation of suicide bombers in Chechnya? Or, in the words of Scott Atran, the issue is “to understand why non-pathological individuals respond to novel situational factors in numbers sufficient for recruiting organizations to implement policies.”63 The answer to this question is complex and is further complicated by the fact that there is no single profile of Chechnya’s suicide bombers.
Ten years of war, instability, and social upheaval has spawned a complicated array of circumstances that drive Chechen shakhidi. The most evident explanation for the motives of many suicide bombers, especially female ones, is despair or grief. By this way of thinking, suicide bombings are an expression of the tremendous hardship endured by the Chechen people.
Having witnessed the almost total obliteration of their country in the past decade, the Chechen people have suffered immeasurably. This tiny mountain nation has endured an apocalyptic demographic crisis, with nearly 180,000 Chechens killed and over 300,000 displaced. These unfathomable numbers mean that one in two Chechens were either killed or driven from their homes in the past ten years. Moreover, Chechnya’s cities have been reduced to rubble and the extent of the environmental catastrophe is yet to be fully understood. Every single person alive today in Chechnya has been deeply scarred by the bloody conflict raging in their midst. Like so many in Chechnya, most of the identified Chechen suicide bombers (especially females) have lost loved ones either in the war itself or in Russian ‘mop-up’ operations. They or those close to them have invariably been affected by the horrors of the second Russo-Chechen war—systematic torture, forced eviction, extrajudicial killings, rape, and abductions all at the hands of Russian soldiers. Such conditions have a natural tendency to incite feelings of rage, despair, and hopelessness that can turn otherwise ‘normal’ individuals into suicide bombers. As one Chechen war-widow remarked, “It is a great sin to commit suicide, but I know what makes these women do it,…Sometimes, I feel like I’d rather die than continue living through this nightmare.”64
It is relevant to note that the frequency of Chechen suicide attacks has correlated closely with cycles of violence against civilians in Chechnya. For example, according to the Russian human rights center Memorial, 2002 was witness to the largest numbers of recorded disappearances and extrajudicial killings of any year since the beginning of the second Russo-Chechen war.2 Not surprisingly, a wave of political violence and suicide terrorism began that autumn with the Dubrovka hostage taking and did not subside until October 2003.
Considering the fact that it takes months to plan a large-scale suicide attack, it is understandable that there would be a delayed reaction to increased violence against civilians in Chechnya. Hardened extremists may not be significantly deterred or encouraged by attacks against civilians, but potential suicide bombers may be much more susceptible to the vicissitudes of civilian violence in their homeland. Thus, although there were a large number of suicide attacks in 2003, the number of recorded disappearances and killings decreased considerably in that same year and the number of attacks in 2004 decreased. Indeed, the precipitous decrease in systematic human rights abuses against Chechen civilians in early 2004 may account for the paucity of terrorist attacks this year. The same is true for 2000-01, when there was a large number of suicide attacks but a unusually low number of killings and abductions. Possibly in response to this low number, there was only one suicide attack in 2001. Although the sample size of Chechen suicide attacks is not large enough to draw firm conclusions, certain patterns are evident. In short, it is quite plausible to assume that increases large scale violence against civilians is, at least, a partial determinant of suicide terrorism.
However, despair and hopelessness taken alone are usually not enough to prompt a suicide attack. Thousands of Chechen women have lost loved ones and thousands more have been left homeless and jobless. Yet there have only
2 See Figure 4. been a handful of Chechen suicide bombers. Thus, grief and despair can usually only serve as underlying causes not immediate motivations.3 Instead, despair and hopelessness usually contribute in a different way to suicide terrorism—by making suicide recruits more susceptible to the extremist and religious recruitment offers of suicide terrorism implementers. Based on inferences that can be drawn from the available information on suicide bombers, it is possible to conclude that most Chechen suicide bombers exhibit this pattern. Radical organizations can exploit the frustrations of suicide bombers more easily if there is a real or perceived sense of injustice, and in the Chechen case, there is no paucity of frustration or injustice.65 Most of the identified suicide bombers documented in this study have lost relatives or suffered some egregious injustice at the hands of Federal forces, and it is plausible to think that the same is true for most unidentified suicide bombers. ‘Charismatic trainers’ then play upon these feelings to recruit and mold potential suicide attackers.66 According to Stern, these ‘trainers’ might offer potential recruits a “‘basket’” of emotional, spiritual, and financial rewards.”67 In the case of Chechen suicide attackers, financial rewards probably do not play a significant role, since there are no reported instances of bomber’s families being offered financial rewards; however, a mixture of “spiritual and emotional rewards” seems to correctly encompass the range of ‘tools’ used by Chechen recruiters. The most prominent and sensationalized of these ‘tools’ is the Islamic faith.
Islam and Suicide Terrorism
Before discussing the influences of Islamic fundamentalism on Chechen suicide attackers, it is necessary to say a few words about Islam in Chechnya. Since first arriving in the 15th century, Islam has been a unifying, if fleeting element of Chechen society. Religious conviction has ebbed and flowed, but at “critical times of national history [Islam] was a powerful source of social mobilization.”68 During the national liberation wars of the 18th and 19th centuries, Chechen Imams such as the great Shamil united thousands of Chechens “under the banner of a holy war to defend their homeland, liberty, and religion.”69 With the fall of the Soviet Union, another period of ethnic and religious rebirth began. For the Chechens, renewed ethnic and cultural consciousness was marked by Islamic identity. As the first Chechen war began, “the fight for land, freedom, and “national honor” inevitably acquired a more revolutionary Islamic tinge.”70
The uniting power of Islam was “strong enough to convince [Aslan] Maskhadov, a secularist, to agree in February 1999 to make the shari’a the source of law within three years. [Maskhadov would later rescind this decision, however.] Political figures such as Basayev, [Zelimkhan] Yanderbiyev, and Movladi
3 The case of Luiza Gadzhieva, however, represents one instance in which the bomber was probably motivated by revenge and despair alone. Udugov…all wanted an Islamic state, although there was no common conception of what that meant in practice.”71 This disunity carried over into the second Chechen war, as competing notions of Islam took hold in Chechnya.
In addition to traditional Sufism, the sect of Islam to which most Chechens traditionally ascribe, several other alternative conceptions of Islam began to take root in Chechnya during the interwar period. The most notorious of these alternative ideologies were the fundamentalist schools such as Wahabbism. Although only a very small minority (ca 5%) of Chechens subscribed to Wahhabism and other extreme Islamic sects, the effects of Islamic extremism were profound and pernicious.72 Islamic extremism appealed particularly to “militarized and radicalized youth unable or unwilling to fully integrate into the traditionalist socio-political structures of the Chechen society….”73 Wahhabism and various other fringe Islamic ideologies offered “simple doctrinaire explanations of the chaos and confusion” of the Chechen morass.74 As atrocities perpetrated by the Russians increased in the Second Chechen war, many more young people were pushed toward radical Islam. With their militant ideology and methods, these groups have grabbed considerably more headlines than moderate nationalists seeking a negotiated settlement.75 Thus, as the ideological/political marketshare of radical Islam has risen, moderate Islamic voices in Chechnya have been increasingly sidelined and ignored. Although radical Islam still has no appreciable base of support in Chechen society and the Chechen nationalist resistance remains relatively secular, Islamic extremists have still managed to take over the front pages and co-opt the limelight of the Chechen conflict.
Just as Islamic extremism provides ‘simple doctrinaire explanations of the chaos and confusion’ in Chechnya, certain parts of Islamic extremism provide potential Chechen suicide bombers with vindications for their feelings of spite and anger toward the Russians. Indeed, Islamic radicalism has been a very evident component of several Chechen suicide bombings (e.g. Dubrovka hostage taking and the first suicide bomber Khava Barayeva). In the Dubrovka instance, hostage takers made references to ‘paradise’ and martyrdom on the behalf of Islam that were redolent of Palestinian suicide bombers. The evidence pointing to the influence of Islamic radicalism on other Chechen suicide bombings has been subtler and largely inferred, but still significant. The influence of religious zealotry in a ‘typical’ Chechen suicide bombing is difficult to gauge, but it is clear that many of the identified suicide bombers had become associated with marginalized extremist groups and/or had been otherwise swayed by Islamic extremism. In her statements after the attack, Zarema Muzhikhoyeva confirmed that her recruiters had encouraged her to ‘find the true road to Allah’ by becoming a suicide bomber.76 It is noteworthy, however, that Chechnya differs significantly from some areas that have been afflicted by suicide terrorism, since religious fundamentalism has not spread to the general populace. Only a few bombers (in particular Sekilat Aliyev and Maria Khadzhieva, who took part in the Dubrovka raid) were known to come from fundamentalist families in Chechnya.77 But in the majority of cases, Chechen suicide bombers came from ‘normal’ Chechen families, who were baffled to learn that their daughter or son had become a suicide attacker. As it seems, any religious zealotry that might motivate an ordinary Chechen to become a shakhid is probably instilled and cultivated.
All Chechen suicide terrorism cannot, as the Kremlin avers, be attributed to Wahhabism. In all likelihood, most suicide recruiters in Chechnya probably use religious zeal and/or martyrdom as one component in their ‘basket’ of tools for recruiting bombers, but it is certainly not the sole motivator. This is evidenced by the fact that, with the exception of Khava Barayeva and the Nord-Ost terrorists, none of the Chechen suicide bombers broadcast their intentions beforehand or made statements on behalf of Islam and their people, as is often the case with Palestinian suicide terrorists that seem to be more actuated by religious fervor and consciousness.78 Indeed, there is serious cause to doubt that religious fundamentalism is the primary reason for the worldwide rise of suicide bombing, since many of the world’s suicide bombings have been perpetrated by non-muslim, non-fundamentalist groups such as the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.79
The Prevalence of Female Suicide Bombers
Another factor that distinguishes Chechen suicide attacks from the global trend of suicide terrorism is the prevalent use of women as suicide bombers. Females make up a clear majority of Chechen suicide attackers; a statistic that runs in stark contrast to gender patterns in most other suicide campaigns in the world, with the possible exception of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, who use women rather frequently.
Nearly 70% of Chechen suicide attacks involve women and around 50% involve women exclusively. Males, on the other hand, comprise an astoundingly low proportion of Chechen suicide terrorists. Only 25% of Chechen suicide bombers are male, while another quarter of suicide bombers have never been identified by gender. The preponderance of female suicide attacks is astonishing when compared to the gender breakdown of other suicide terror campaigns in the world.
During the first Palestinian intifada, there was not a single case of female suicide bombing, while in the second intifada members of the fairer sex have perpetrated only 5% of attacks. In the case of Sri Lanka, approximately 1/3 of LTTE terrorists have been women.80 As Nabi Abdullayev points out, Chechen rebel suicide terrorist unit structure resembles that of Hamas, in which females act only as executioners.81 In non-Muslim groups such as the Tamil Tigers or Japanese Red Army, females often occupy leadership and decision-making positions.82
The prevalence of female suicide attackers in Chechnya can be attributed to several factors. The first factor is tactical. Women have an easier time reaching targets in Chechnya and Russia, since they apparently do not arouse as much suspicion as men. In a July 21, 2003 investigative report the Russian news magazine Kommersant-Vlast conducted an experiment that proved this assumption. As part of the experiment, a female journalist walked around high-traffic areas in downtown Moscow wearing a Muslim headscarf and a head-to-toe Islamic style garment.83 She completed her disguise by carrying a black satchel clutched tightly to her chest and behaving in a nervous, unsettled manner. The woman visited many of the same places that failed suicide bomber Zarema Muzhikhoyeva had visited on her fateful day and even managed to procure a table at the café where Muzhikhoyeva had botched her suicide attempt. Through it all, she was never questioned or given a second look by Moscow’s ubiquitous police.
Another factor that probably contributes to the large numbers of female suicide bombers is strategic. Female suicide bombers affect a greater psychological impact on the target audience, and thus attract more publicity and attention.84 Chechen implementers of suicide terrorism took cues from the small, though much publicized upsurge in female suicide bombings that occurred in Iraq, Palestine, and Sri Lanka. They quickly saw that female suicide terrorism could pay big dividends in attention and exposure. This assertion is evidenced clearly by the sensational media coverage devoted to the rash of female suicide bombings in the summer of 2003.
The final reason why women represent such a high proportion of Chechen suicide bombers is tied to the main undercurrent of the broader suicide terrorism phenomenon in Chechnya. As we have seen, desperation and hopelessness are major underlying precipitates of suicide terror, since these states naturally precipitate feelings of helpless anger that is easily exploited by recruiters. Not surprisingly, Chechen women are more prone to experience these intense feelings of anguish and despair. Having lost husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers in the course of two wars, Chechen women have clearly been grievously afflicted by the devastation and brutality of the Russo-Chechen wars. Not long after the suicide attacks began in Chechnya, observers began to notice that many of the female suicide attackers had lost husbands in the war. The Western and Russian press were quick to seize upon this fact and soon gave Chechnya’s suicide attackers the ominous moniker ‘Black Widows.’85 The loss of family members is one characteristic the Chechen suicide bombers share with Palestinian female suicide bombers.86 In both cases female suicide attackers have typically lost relatives who were involved with the resistance movement or killed in Israeli or Russian ‘counter-terrorist operations. Several of the suicide attacks perpetrated by Chechen suicide bombers clearly approximate isolated incidents of spontaneous vengeance seeking. These incidents are indicative, because if despair can drive a Chechen woman to independently seek vindication for an injustice, then it is easy to see how such desperate women could be co-opted by extremist suicide recruiters. “Thus, it is often when they were psychologically weaker that recruiters prey on them as potential suicide bombers.”87
It is clear that the desperate position of women in war-torn Chechen society is largely to blame for the predominance of females in Chechen suicide attacks, but despair is not the only determinant. In a typical situation, hopelessness, despair, anger, patriotism, ethnic consciousness, faith, and a desire for revenge all converge to actuate a female suicide terrorist.88 It is important to keep in mind that it is exceedingly difficult to make generalizations about the motivations of individual Chechen suicide bombers, since no common profile is evident across cases. However, the primary characteristic that differentiates the majority of Chechen suicide attackers from other suicide attackers around the world is the prominent role desperation and grief play in precipitating vulnerability to suicide terrorism. In most cases, all that is missing is a skilled recruiter that can operationalize these emotions and turn disenchanted Chechen women into radical shakhidi. As it turns out, Chechen suicide bombers are not wholly desperate, devout, or deceived, but instead they are desperate which allows them to be deceived into being devout.
Policymakers in Russia and around the world can draw some important lessons from the phenomenon of Chechen suicide bombings. Clearly, the Kremlin’s vicious tactics in prosecuting the war and consistent refusal moderate their approach to ending the conflict have exacerbated the cycle of violence in the republic and correspondingly spurred the rise of suicide terrorism.
First, Moscow is ultimately responsible for creating the underlying conditions of despair and anguish that precipitate suicide terrorism in Chechnya. Even if it were true that Chechen suicide bombers are consistently drugged by their handlers, the Kremlin’s prosecution of the war is creating the conditions that make it possible for extremist elements to manipulate potential female suicide bombers. By destroying families, homes, and lives, the Russian occupation has pushed many Chechen women to the edge, and some of those that fall off the edge find themselves in the ‘soothing’ arms of Islamic extremism and shakhidism. As this paper shows, the general trend of increased human rights violations in the Second-Russo Chechen war has been accompanied by a corresponding rise in suicide tactics. “Given the cost of the war and its devastation, independent of the penetration of international Islamist militants, and even of the post-Soviet renaissance of Islam in the region, Chechnya likely would have spawned its own radicals.”89 Russian officials love to make the claim that suicide attacks are not indigenous to Chechnya, and that they are the work of foreign radicals who have infiltrated the Russian conflict. Such statements are simply false. While the tactics of suicide bombing may be foreign, the motivations and underlying causes of Chechen suicide terrorism are certainly homegrown.
It is not only possible but also prudent to blame the Kremlin for the radicalization of the Chechen conflict, which has clearly fueled political violence. Leaving Chechnya in ruins after the first war, Russia alienated the republic, strangling it financially and cutting it off from the outside world. Some in Chechnya naturally turned to Islamic extremism, which was the only thing available that could provide them with moral and material support. The same thing has happened with some suicide recruiters and recruits. They have been alienated and abandoned. They have nowhere to turn, but to that which gives them moral and material salvation—Islamic extremism.
However, the role of Islamic extremism in the Chechen conflict should not be overstated. Most of the resistance remains nationalist and non-fundamentalist and the populace has no stomach for Islamic adventurism. Russian leaders should not exaggerate the extent of Islamic extremism in Chechnya. By lending credence to the notion of widespread Islamic Extremism they are adding market value extremist ideologies. Moderates will increasingly resort to radical tactics if they see that it has an impact on their target audience and the Russians. In addition, as Russia shuns middle-of-the-road paths to peace and reconciliation, moderates will increasingly view radical tactics such as suicide terrorism as their only available option.
Thus, in addition to sowing the seed of despair, rage, and grief, Russian policies have helped add Islamic extremism to the ‘basket of tools’ that Chechen recruiters can use to mobilize recruits. Just as Moscow is radicalizing the fighters in Chechnya they are radicalizing the recruiting pools of suicide attack organizers. Radical Chechen separatist leaders do not execute suicide attacks themselves, so it seems plausible that if the Kremlin had conducted itself in Chechnya differently, then it could have dammed the flow of suicide recruits. The indiscriminate use of military force by Russia has done nothing but encourage suicide terrorism in Chechnya. “Like pounding mercury with a hammer, top-heavy use of massive military force to counter Islamic terrorism only seems to generate more varied and insidious forms of terrorism and broaden support.”90
Shows of military strength are not the way to end the growing menace of suicide terrorism: witness the failure of Israel’s and Russia’s coercive efforts to end strings of Palestinian and Chechen suicide bombings. Rather, nations most threatened by suicide terrorism should promote democracy, but be ready to accept “democracy’s paradox”: representatives who America and its democratic allies don’t like, who have different values or ways of doing things, must be accepted as long as this does not generate violence.91
And just as massive military coercion does not work, neither does heavy-handed intimidation and humiliation of civilians. Fareed Zakaria makes an apt comparison of the Turkish Kurd suicide attacks in the late 1990s and Chechen suicide terrorism.92 After being subjected to a devastating wave of suicide bombings in the 1990s, Turkey began to see fewer and fewer suicide bombings until they almost completely subsided. As Zakaria points out, this result was achieved by a systematic ‘hearts and minds’ campaign in which Turkey “worked very hard to win over the Kurds, creating stable governing structures for them, befriending them and putting forward social welfare programs…On a per capita basis, it has invested more in the Kurdish region than any other part of Turkey.” Zakaria notes the scorched earth policy of the Russian government in the first and second war, and concludes:
There are many differences between the Kurds and the Chechens. But both are Muslim populations that have political grievances. In one case, the grievances and tactics grew more extreme and violent, culminating in suicide bombing. In the other, suicide bombing gave way to political negotiations and even coexistence. There is a lesson here.93
If Russian leaders truly want to understand the source of suicide terrorism, then perhaps they should take a closer look at the human catastrophe they have wrought in Chechnya. Russia must recognize that ‘counter terrorism’ strategies, which employ abduction, torture, and lawless killing, can only create more terrorists. And if Russia wants to prevent another wave of suicide bombings, then it would be well served to seek peaceful reconciliation by constructively engaging those moderate voices that still exist in Chechnya.
1 Remarks at “Catastrophe in Chechnya: Escaping the Quagmire.” Conference sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, Amnesty International USA, Freedom House, the Jamestown Foundation, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 10 December 2003.
2 Ruslan Isayev. “The Chechen Woman and her role in the “new” society.” Prague Watchdog, 21 June 2004 www.watchdog.cz Accessed June 23, 2004.
3 “Media Reports Bombers’ Desperation.” BBC, 4 July 2000 news.bbc.co.uk. Accessed August 2, 2004.
4 Timofei Borisov, “Smertnitsa Duduyeva.” Rossiskaya Gazeta, 10 July 2003.
6 In fact most of the accessible information on Duduyeva was published almost three years after the incident during and after the sensationalized spate of suicide bombings in the summer of 2003.
7 Yuliya Yuzik, Excerpt from Nevesti Allaha. Published in Komsomolskaya Pravda, 22 October 2003
8 Florian Hassel, “Chechenskie Boyeviki trusyi: Svoyu shkuru oni spacayut, otpravlyaya na smert’ drugikh,” Frankfurter Rundeschau. 13 May 2002 Translated into Russian by www.inosmi.ru . Accessed August 9, 2004.
9 See kavkaz.strana.ru.
10 Nick Paton Walsh, “Chechnya suicide bombers ‘used Russian military links,’” The Observer, 29 December 2002.
11 Vadim Rechkalov, “Privet Mama! Ya Uchu Arabskii,” Izvestiya, 19 February 2004
14 Vadim Rechkalov, “Dom Pravitelstva Chechni vzoravala 17 letnyaya iz possiskoi provintsii,” Izvestiya, 9 February 2004
15 Nick Paton Walsh, “At least 40 die in Chechnya blast,” Guardian, 13 May 2003
17 Sergei Venyavsky, “Truck Bomb Injures 36 in Chechnya,” Associated Press, 20 June 2003.
18 “Truck Bomb Explodes Near Government Building in Chechnya,” CBC, 20 June 2003 www.cbc.ca.
19 “Police Investigators: Suicide bomber was trained at saboteur camp,” english.pravda.ru, 21 June 2003.
20 “Terror with Terror: Conditions in the Urus-Martan region after the attempted assassination of the military commander of the region, General G. A. Gadzhiev.” Report from Human Rights Center “Memorial,” 20 December 2002 www.memo.ru , Accessed August 5, 2004.
23 Anna Politkovskaya, “Smert’ Voyenovo Kommendanta. Pochemu pogib General Gadzhiev?,” Novaya Gazeta, 14 January 2002 www.novayagazeta.ru , Accessed August 9, 2004
24 Yuzik. Komsomolskaya Pravda.
25 “Kadyrov knew about kamikaze before blast,” Prima-News. 20 May 2003 www.prima-news.ru/eng.
26 “Chechnya’s black widows are new threat for Russia,” Reuters, 28 May 2003.
28 Ksenia Solyanskaya, “Suicide Bomber Targets Kadyrov’s Bodyguards,” Gazeta.ru, 28 July 2004.
29 Lawrence Uzzell, “Basaev Claims Responsibility For Terrorist Bombings,” Chechnya Weekly, The Jamestown Foundation, 7 January 2004 Accessed Online www.jamestown.org
30 Canobar Shermatova and Aleksander Tate, “Shestero iz Baraevskikh,” Moskovskie Novosti. No 16 2003. …, “Eshyo Troye iz Barayevskikh,” Moskovskie Novosti, No 41 2003.
31 Michael Mainville, “‘Black Widows’ terrorize Russia” Toronto Star, 13 July 2003.
32 Shermatova and Tate.
33 Many observers note that the attacks were a virtual solicitation for funding from the Arab world, owing to the uncharacteristic brandishing of Islamic paraphernalia and the toting of Koranic slogans during the attacks. However, John Dunlop of Stanford University takes a different view, intimating that the attacks could have been orchestrated as a public relations ploy by the Russians, demonstrating the Jihadist/Arab extremist side of the Chechen conflict. By embellishing these aspects of the conflict, the Kremlin could hope to place the Chechen conflict in the context of the global ‘war on terror,’ and thereby garner support (or at least insouciance) from America and its allies. “The October 2002 Moscow Hostage-Taking Incident.” www.peaceinchechnya.org/reports 31
34 Nabi Abdullayev. “Religious and Non-Religious Factors in the Chechen Rebels’ Female Suicide Bombings.” Unpublished paper. Harvard University.
36 Steven Lee Myers, “Female Suicide Bombers Unnerve Russians,” New York Times, 7 August 2003
38 “Chyornyie vdovyi derzhat v strakhye voiska i militsiyu,” Diplomaticheskii Mir, 12-19 November 2003.
39 Nabi Abdullayev, “Suicide—or Staged—Bombings? History suggests Chechens were not behind the recent Moscow bomb blasts.” Transitions Online, 16 July 2003 Accessed online at www.cdi.org/russia
40 Pavel Felgenhauer, “Was it a Suicide Bombing?” The Moscow Times, 10 July 2004.
41 Vyacheslav Ismailov, “Monolog agenta FSB provedshchei neskol’ko mesytsev s terroristkoi Muzhakhoyevoi,” Novaya Gazeta, 17 May 2004.
42 Steven Lee Myers, “Russia Finds No Corner Is Safe from Chechnya’s War,” The New York Times, 30 July 2003.
43 Larry Uzzell, “Profile of a Female Suicide Bomber,” Chechnya Weekly. The Jamestown Foundation, 11 February 2004 www.jamestown.org
44 Alexander Raskin, “Poka yasha tol’ko kartina bzryiva,” Vremya Novostei, 8 December 2004.
45 Steven Lee Myers, “Suicide Bomber Kills 5 in Moscow Near Red Square,” The New York Times, 10 December 2003.
46 The Moscow Times, News in Brief 11 August 2004.
47 Konstantin Filatov, “Opoznaniye po golove,” Vremya Novostei, 16 August 2004. And “Spetzsluzhbi Chechni ostanovili lichnost’ vzorvavsheisya u ‘Natsionalya’ shakhidki” www.lenta.ru 16 August 2004.
48 “Shamil Basayev vzyal na sebya otvetsvennost za vzryvy u gosinitsi “Natsional” v Moskve 9 Dekabrya I elektrichki v yessentukakh 5 Dekabrya” www.pravda.ru 24 December 2003.
49 Aleksandr Zheglov, “Subway was bombed the same way commuter trains were,” Kommersant, 10 February 2004, Trans. Current Digest of the Post Soviet Press. 56.6.
50 Roman Kupchinsky, “The Moscow Metro Bombing,” Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch RFE/RL, 12 March 2004.
51 Ms. Politkovskaya articulates her views on Chechen suicide bombing in two very well conceived articles “Kak skolotit’ zhenskuyu brigadu odnopazovo naznacheniya,” Novaya Gazeta, 9 June 2003 and “Children of the War; The Intifada has come to Chechnya. The new rebels are child suicide-bombers living only for revenge,” Newsweek. 24 May 2004.
52 Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God, (New York: Harper Collins, 2003) xx.
53 Robert Pape, “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” American Political Science Review, 97 (August 2003): 343-361.
54 Debra D. Zedalis, “Female Suicide Bombers,” Monograph. Strategic Studies Institute, www.carlisle.army.mil/ssi/
55 Boaz Ganor, “The First Iraqi Suicide Bombing,” International Policy Institute for Counter Terrrorism. 30 March 2003 www.ict.org.il
61 Scott Atran, “Mishandling Suicide Terrorism,” The Washington Quarterly, Vol.27 No.3, p67-90.
63 Scott Atran, “Genesis of Suicide Terrorism,” Science, Vol. 299, 7 Mar 2003.
65 Atran, “Mishandling…” 78.
66 Atran, “Genesis…”
67 Jessica Stern, “How Terrorists Think,” Financial Times, 12 June 2004.
68 Emil Souleimanov, “Islam as a Uniting and Dividing force in Chechen society.” Prague Watchdog, 13 August 2004 Accessed online www.watchdog.cz
71 Rajon Menon, “Russia’s Quagmire,” Boston Review, Vol 29 32
75 Remarks by Fiona Hill. “Islam and the Caucasus: A Look at Chechnya” CSIS Monograph of “Islam in Eurasia and ‘War on Terror’ Series” Accessed Online www.csis.org
76 Luba Vinogradova, “Deadly Secret of the Black Widows” The Times, 22 October 2003.
77 Shermatova and Tate
78 Musa Nuchaev, “Shakhidism,” Polit.ru 5 July 2003 Accessed Online www.polit.ru
79 “Martyrdom and Murder,” Economist 8 January 2004.
80 Personal Correspondence with Scott Atran, director of research at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris and Professor of anthropology and psychology at the University of Michigan.
81 Nabi Abdullayev “Religious…”
83 Larry Uzzell, “Non-Chalance in the Russian Capital,” Chechnya Weekly The Jamestown Foundation. 24 July 2003 Accessed Online www.jamestown.org
85 Kim Murphy, “Cult of Reluctant Killers” Los Angeles Times, 4 February 2004.
86 Clara Beyler, “Female Suicide Bombers: An Update” International Policy Institute for Counter Terrorism 7 March 2004 Accessed Online www.ict.org.il
88 Ruslan Isayev….
89 Remarks by Fiona Hill.
90 Scott Atran, “Soft Power and the Psychology of Suicide Bombing” The Jamestown Foundation. 8 June 2004 Accessed Online www.jamestown.org
92 Fareed Zakaria, “Suicide Bombers Can Be Stopped” Newsweek, 25 August 2003.