THE ROVING EYE The Black Widow riddle
By Pepe Escobar
They were two Chechen “Black Widows” with dark hair, Caucasus features, not
older than 25. They were trained by al-Qaeda Arabs, led by Abu Hanifah, in the
Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan, alongside a bunch of Chechens and
Uzbeks who came from Turkey - all part of a long-range al-Qaeda plan to wreak
permanent havoc across Central Asia and the Caucasus.
They crossed from the Pakistani tribal areas to Balochistan, and then to
Sistan-Balochistan province in Iran - profiting from a deal between al-Qaeda
and the anti-Tehran Sunni group Jundallah. From Iran it was easy to cross to
Azerbaijan - already in the
Caucasus - and then to southern Russia. On Monday, silently, anonymously and
out of the blue, the two Chechen Black Widows turned into suicide bombers and
became shahidas ("martyrs") in the Moscow subway, killing 39 people and
There's only one problem with this thrilling, Bourne conspiracy-worthy plot
straight out of a Robert Ludlum thriller. The Moscow-AfPak connection doesn't
I make the bomb, you blow up
Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri may well have drawn a complex road map to
take over Central Asia/Caucasus, using Chechnya to bring the fight also to
Russia. But radical Islam does not necessarily embrace shahidas. In
2008, al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, tacitly stated women should not
join jihad action. In 2009, his wife, Oumayna al-Zawahiri, in a letter to her
"Muslim sisters", explained that if they did they should necessarily be
assisting "a male companion".
The "male companion" clue is corroborated by Moscow subway security cameras -
they have identified a man suspected of being involved in the suicide bombings.
If the Black Widows were not trained in AfPak, they obviously had to be trained
by Chechens. And that would have been the work of charismatic master ideologue,
Said Buryatsky, born Alexander Tikhomirov.
Buryatsky was killed by a Federal Security Service (FSB - the former KGB)
commando in the Republic of Ingushetia on March 2. So the suicide bombings
could have been an act of revenge. Buryatsky was the number two to notorious
Doku Umarov, who has tens of thousands of supporters and wants to reign over a
still-to-be-born trans-North Caucasus emirate. Last year, Moscow solemnly
declared the end of counter-terrorism in Chechnya, a semi-autonomous region in
the Russian Federation, and proclaimed victory. All the rebel Chechen jihadis
seemed to be six feet under.
Not so fast. Last month, Umarov warned all Russians on video that "this war
will return to their homes". It did - in central Moscow. And returned not only
to homes, but boldly enough, to the Lubyanka metro station - which sits right
below FSB headquarters.
For the Kremlin and the FSB, Buryatsky was the mastermind of the bombing of the
Nevsky Express train between Moscow and St Petersburg that killed 26 and
wounded 100 in November 2009; and the suicide bombing that almost killed
Ingushetia's president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, in June 2009. He may have trained
30 suicide bombers. Nine already died. The FSB is frantically searching for the
remaining 21, who are believed to be in Russia, and perhaps Moscow itself.
The shahidas' shadow play
The first Chechen "Black Widow" was Luiza Gazuyeva, who killed a Russian
general in November 2001 because she believed he was responsible for killing
her husband. Still in late 2001, a notorious Chechen warlord, Shamil Basayev,
set up a battalion of shahidas called Riyadus Salihin, with both men and
women. Black Widows carried a string of attacks up to 2004. Basayev was killed
by the FSB in July 2006.
Alix de la Grange is a Swiss specialist on Chechnya, with countless trips to
the line of fire and interviews with Chechen women. She says that if Black
Widows were indeed the Moscow suicide bombers, they "were certainly drugged and
manipulated by a fanatic. Black Widows are usually young and dejected, they had
their husband or family killed, and they have nothing to lose. For Islamists,
it's so easy to use them as cannon fodder. That was already the case in 2002
during the hostage drama in Moscow at the Dubrovka theater; the Black Widows
were not privy to most of the plan."
As for the Moscow bombs, they may have been detonated by remote control by a
"male companion". But de la Grange is sure nobody was trained in Pakistan.
"They don't need to go there, they have everything they need where they are.
And traveling for Chechens is very difficult, they are extremely controlled at
What de la Grange says widely corroborates the study Les Fiancees d'Allah,
published in 2005 by journalist Julija Jusik, and based on interviews with
families of female suicide bombers: a Black Widow is basically moved by
despair, not by crazy adoration of Allah. Jusik also tacitly stated that
Chechen men never become suicide bombers. They have used women right from the
start of their bombing campaign in 2001. The explosives they use must be
fabricated, transported and detonated; they take care of it. They drug the
Black Widows. And then detonate their payload by remote control.
That's a key difference between Chechnya and both Palestine and Iraq. No less
than 16 aspiring shahidas were arrested in Diyala province in Iraq in
2008; many of their deceased male family members were also suicide bombers. And
five years before Jihad Jane in the US, Muriel, a white woman from Belgium,
also decided out of despair to become a suicide bomber in Baquba.
The first female suicide bombing is believed to have happened in 1985. It had
nothing to do with radical Islam. In countless cases, female suicide bombers
are secular - as with the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist outfit, and the
Kurdistan Workers' Party in Turkish Kurdistan. The first shahida was a
Palestinian, in Jerusalem, in 1995. She was also moved by despair, not Allah.
The hidden hand of Moscow
So Moscow did not have an AfPak connection, even though al-Qaeda's game was
(is) to establish an Islamic emirate of Khurasan (as in the Iranian province,
west of Mashhad) which would unite, once again, Central Asia, eastern Iran,
most of Afghanistan, and north and western Pakistan.
The FSB - without mentioning al-Qaeda - instantly blamed the North Caucasus
jihadis who want to establish a trans-Caucasus emirate. Few seized on the fact
the Moscow subway users are so attentive to the profile of "terrorists from the
Caucasus" that the two Black Widows must have been decked out in full Dolce
& Gabbana not to arouse any suspicion.
But there's a more disturbing possibility. What if this was a false flag
operation carefully orchestrated by the FSB itself?
De la Grange pulls no punches; "In 2002, at the Dubrovka theater, it was proved
that with all the controls in Moscow at the time, it was perfectly impossible
for a commando of 41 Chechens carrying an arsenal of weapons and explosives to
calmly cross the whole city by car without the complicity of the police and the
Not by accident, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is using almost the same words
as when elected president in March 2000: "The Chechens, we will throw them down
the toilet". He has just ordered his intelligence services to "sweep the
sewers" to find the terrorists. The best and the brightest Russian political
scientists seem to agree that the suicide bombings will help Putin to
turbo-charge repression all across the Caucasus, not only in Chechnya but also
in Ingushetia and Dagestan.
The issue is becoming pressing: On Wednesday, at least nine people, including a
regional police official, were killed by two bombs in the restive republic of
Dagestan. The BBC reported that a car bomb went off outside the offices of the
local Interior Ministry and the FSB security agency in the town of Kizlyar.
This was followed by a second bomb soon after in the same street.
For de la Grange, "He [Putin] has two years ahead of him to show off as the
country's strongman, the one who will save the population from terrorism - a
sine qua non condition to reclaim his position as president. So the attacks
could have been orchestrated, or facilitated, by the FSB and Putin himself.
There have been troubled alliances before between Chechen rebels, Islamists and
the FSB. Anyway we look at it, the crime in Moscow profits most of all Putin
and the FSB."
So did the Black Widows end up working for Russian intelligence? And what if
these Black Widows were nothing but ... ghosts?