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From dismal Chechnya, women turn to bombs
By STEVEN LEE MYERS (New York Times)
Updated: 2004-09-10 15:31

A neighbor of the sisters, who said she feared the kind of retribution that is all too common in Chechnya and would only speak on condition of anonymity, said she discounted that loss as a possible source for revenge.

"Amanat would not seek revenge after three years," she said of the older Nagayeva sister, who in other accounts has been called Aminat, Amnat and Amanta. "Such things are never delayed."

Whatever their motivation, it was clear that all four women, like virtually everyone else here, led lives mired in squalor and devastation.

More than a year ago, three neighbors here said, the four women moved into an apartment on the fourth floor of a building on Ulitsa Mira, which means Street of Peace. They shared the apartment with at least two other women, Ms. Taburova's mother and her aunt, dividing the rent of $30 a month.

They lived in two bedrooms, sleeping on beds, some of which were simply matting or blankets on top of boxes. The windows are covered with plastic film; few panes have been replaced in the building, or anywhere else in Grozny for that matter. The fifth floor is open to the sky, its wall and roof punched out by one of the shells that pounded the city as Russian forces returned in 1999.

Their apartment faces a cratered courtyard that is fetid, strewn with trash and muddied by a constantly running pipe, the only source of water for the entire block.

All four worked in the central market, selling clothes, shoes and other goods they shuttled in from Azerbaijan. A stall costs 30 cents a day to rent.

Some people here say a decade of war and destruction, including atrocities by Russian forces, have driven women to desperate acts.

"The war has created the favorable soil for such extremists," Natalya K. Estemirova, director of Memorial, the rights organization, said in an interview in her office here. "That's why, with each step, it gets harder and harder.

"When traditional links have been destroyed, when society is destroyed, when so many people have been thrown apart, when morally it is impossible to understand such conditions, it is difficult to establish the forces of social unity" - forces, she said, that once held Chechen society together.

Officials in Russia have called the women's role evidence of the growing influence of Islamic extremists, suggesting the women had been coerced, brainwashed and even drugged by Chechen terrorists in order to carry out the attacks.

Support for such theories came from one of the bombers, Zarema Muzhikhoyeva. In July 2003, she botched - deliberately, she later told investigators - an attempt to blow herself up at a cafe in Moscow. She was arrested, but an explosives expert died trying to defuse the bomb.

In February, the newspaper Izvestia published an interview with her in which she claimed she had been recruited to terrorism out of shame and debt. Her handlers gave her orange juice that made her dizzy and dispatched her to bomb the cafe, she said. But she lost her will to die. She cooperated with investigators, leading them to a cache of "suicide belts" buried outside Moscow.

In April, a court convicted her and handed down a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, despite her cooperation. According to Russian news accounts, she lashed out when the sentence was read, shouting, "Now I know why everyone hates Russians!'' She said she would "come back and blow you all up.''

That anger simmers in Grozny today. It remains a ruin, but a ruin where thousands must survive, with few jobs outside of the government, the security forces and the black market. One of the few buildings newly renovated, an incongruously pink House of Culture, was burned when rebels staged a raid the night before the four women left Grozny.

"Every day we feel some injustice," said the neighbor who insisted on anonymity.

Alone among those interviewed, she expressed support for some of the suicide attacks attributed to women, though she said she condemned terrorism against civilians.

She cited one of the first known suicide bombings during the second round of war: In November 2001, Elza Gazuyeva killed herself and a Russian commander, Geidar Gadzhiyev, the man she believed ordered the death of her husband. "They are understood here," the woman said of suicide bombers like Ms. Gazuyeva. "They are adored. She was, is and will remain a heroine for us."

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