Some journalists in Moscow received anonymous calls on the second day of the siege in Beslan, saying the extremists had communicated their demands to the authorities but the latter were not making them public. The demands included the expulsion of Russian troops from Chechnya and the release of more than 8,000 Chechen prisoners from Russian jails.This was not the first article I came across that discussed the phenomenon of "Black Widows" seeking revenge for the murders of their husbands or other family members by Russian authorities. It was, however, the first article I came across that gave details of a specific woman who, according to this article, led the terrorist siege of the Beslan school itself. When reading about Chechen "Black Widows" in general, the women I imagined were women who either had lost their children to the violence of Russian authorities or had never had children or had raised their children to adulthood before their husbands or other family members were killed. That's because, to my mind, no matter how angry and furious a woman may be (or for that matter a man) at the death of a spouse, a parent who still has young children depending upon them would have to focus on continuing to take care of the living rather than avenging the dead as a suicide bomber.
The anonymous callers also claimed that the group responsible for the siege called itself Black Widows of Chechnya and comprises women whose husbands and other loved ones had been killed by Russian troops over the last 10 years.
The name Black Widows surfaced in July 2003 when a Chechen woman, Zarema, was arrested in Moscow with a bomb in her bag. An explosives expert was brought in to defuse the bomb, but it went off and killed him. A Moscow court found Zarema guilty of terrorism and attempted murder and sentenced her to 20 years in prison.
The woman told investigators that she belonged to the Black Widows of Chechnya, a group whose aim is to wreak vengeance on Russians for killing their husbands and children.
Another source said the name of the woman leading the Beslan operation was Khaula Nazirov, a 45-year-old widow from Grozny, the Chechen capital. Her 18-year-old son, 16-year-old daughter, and some other relatives were also part of the operation. They attacked the school because Nazirov's husband was tortured to death in a Russian military camp five years ago, while some of her children's cousins were killed when Russian troops bombed a school in Chechnya some years ago.
The latest wave of violence in Russia is related to the presidential election held in Chechnya on August 29. President Vladimir Putin visited Grozny a few days before the election to convey the impression of complete peace in the region. He also rejected the possibility of talks with the separatists.
Violence began two weeks before the election. More than 46 people were killed in the first three weeks of August in Chechnya, but Russian authorities continued to downplay the situation.
Two planes were destroyed near Moscow on August 25 by suicide bombers, killing more than 90 people. But once again the government claimed there was no clear evidence of terrorism. It was Moscow Times that published the names of two Chechen women suicide bombers who destroyed the planes. Amnat Nagayeva, 30, destroyed the Tu-134 and Satsita Dzhebirkhanova, 37, destroyed the Tu-154. All their relatives went underground after the event. Both women were close friends and lost their husbands a few years ago in the Chechen war.
After this incident and the election in Chechnya, it was only to be expected that the rebels would increase their attacks, but common Russians were unaware of the situation because the largely State-controlled media had carried on chanting that things were now normal in the breakaway southern republic.
Last month I was the first Pakistani journalist ever to enter Chechnya. I was with two dozen other journalists from European and Arab countries. All of us were stopped from visiting polling stations in Grozny after 3 pm because there were no voters. We were all taken to the 46th Brigade headquarters of the Russian army and confined to the camp.
The next day the authorities announced that pro-Moscow candidate Ali Alikhanov had got 73 percent of the votes and would succeed Akhmad Kadirov as president. Kadirov was killed on May 9 in a bomb blast at the Grozny stadium.
Immediately after the results were announced, Alikhanov claimed he would bring peace and stability to Chechnya. But when we were coming back from Grozny to Moscow, people in the streets were openly expressing their fear that Russia is headed for big trouble. The day we arrived in Moscow, we witnessed another suicide bombing at a metro station in which 10 people were killed. Once again a Chechen woman was behind the operation.
We were told by some Chechens in Moscow that most of the Black Widows are not very well educated, have little knowledge of Islam, and don't know that killing innocents in the name of Islam is forbidden. These widows are simply looking for revenge. They are being trained by fighters of Shamil Basayev, who is known to have had contacts with Osama bin Laden in the past.
But apparently not, since this article claims that the woman leading the Beslan school siege brought her 18-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter (who would have been only 13 and 11 when their father was murdered by Russian authorities five years ago, the time I'm presuming she first got interested in being a violent terroris) to help murder the children of Beslan's School No. 1. Tell me, how far gone do you have to be to believe that the best way to honor your murdered husband is to kill off his only surviving descendants by raising them to murder other children? I mean, I don't know about you, but if I had children and I were tortured to death, my dying wish for my children would be that they could live long happy lives as non-murderers, not that my spouse would raise them to be suicide bombers to avenge my death. Did Khaula Nazirov's husband's dying wish as he was tortured to death really differ so much from what mine would be? Where did she get the idea that it would?
The article tells us that the Black Widows are usually not very well educated and know very little about Islam. They are not, in other words, motivated by grand ambitions for the future of Islam, but by their own personal family tragedies. The lack of education does suggest one possibility for why Khaula Nazirov might not have felt guilty for sending her husband's only surviving descendants to their deaths: perhaps she was too poor and uneducated to be able to take care of them at all without a husband to financially support the family anymore, so she figured they would die either way. However, although that thought may have beein in her mind in the beginning, the fact that she did raise them herself for five years, to the ages of 18 and 16, tends to belie it. Unless she was getting major financial support from the terrorist organizers like Shamil Basayev and was dependent upon them to be able to feed her children, which is also quite possible. I don't know the answers, but I'd be interested in knowing.
I don't know who to feel sorriest for. The children and adults who were murdered in School No. 1? The ones who survived but with massive skull fractures and shrapnel embedded in their brain that will paralyze or otherwise handicap them for life in ways that haven't even become clear yet? The ones who survived with their brains intact but permanently deafened from the sound of the bombs exploding, who are left to cope in silence, no longer able to hear or hold spoken conversations about the emotional trauma of having seen their friends' intestines spilling out in front of them or the terror of masked faces and guns that runs so deep that the nurses have to avoid wearing hospital masks and ask visitors not to bring cameras near the children because one child mistook a camera for a gun? The mothers released early with their infant or toddler children, but who were made to choose between staying and being murdered with all their children or abandoning their older children with murderers and walking away from those children's wails for them to return, who later either found out that those older children did die, or were reunited with a child who now knows that their mother abandoned them to save the younger child? The fathers who left a wife and three children at home when they went to work one morning, and three days later found themselves with neither a wife nor any children at all? Or the son and daughter of Khaula Nazirov, who after having their own father murdered, were raised from the ages of 13 and 11 for a future as suicide bombers, and who not only died violently but did so knowing that they themselves had helped murder all these children and parents who had not personally done anything to them other than failing to single-handedly overthrow Putin's government and possibly, in some cases, voting for him?
The moral that Putin drew from this massacre of his citizens was, "We showed weakness, and weak people are beaten." Well, it's true that weak people are very often beaten, and Putin knows that because Putin does plenty of beating Chechnya for its weakness. If it were strong enough to bomb Moscow to pieces, he wouldn't dare try to oppose its people's wishes. However, what Putin fails to acknowledge, and possibly fails to see, is that weak people are not the only people who are beaten. Cruel people who beat up weak people are also beaten, if they make the weak people sufficiently angry and desperate. And maybe Russia did show some weakness, but it also showed a lot more cruelty.
I've read articles arguing, variously, that the Chechen terrorists either hurt their cause or helped their cause. I'm not sure which I agree with. Did Osama bin Laden help or hurt his cause with September 11? If his cause was to prevent so many Iraqis and other Middle Eastern people from being murdered by the American government, then I'd have to say he hurt his cause, not only in the short term but also, considering all the new radioactive depleted uranium that the U.S. military has now scattered across the region (in addition to what it had already scattered in the first Gulf War), in the very very long term. If, however, his cause was to make more people hate the U.S. government, then I'd have to say the reaction he provoked from George Bush certainly accomplished that. And if his cause was to promote the spread of Wahabite Islam and its accompanying patriarchal laws, well, the Middle East's only secular government is certainly well on its way to becoming an Islamic state, and not only that but a more fundamentalist and patriarchal Islamic state than the forms of Islam and patriarchy that previously existed there. I'm getting the impression that his success at the last two causes outweighs, in his mind, his failure at the first. And as for the Black Widows of Chechnya, maybe their equivalent of cause #2 (to make more people hate the Russian government) is what matters most to them - in which case, it's now up to Vladimir Putin to refrain from retaliating with the kind of violence against Chechnya that will squander the world's current sympathy for Russia in the same way that Bush squandered the world's sympathy for the U.S. after September 11.