Security forces in Russia are frantically searching for four women thought to be suicide terrorists hiding out in the run up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Ruzanna Ibragimova—one of the four—is believed to have already penetrated the “iron ring” of Putin’s security perimeter drawn in the radius around Sochi—waiting to attack.
Twenty-two-year-old Ruzanna Ibragimova, is motivated both by the separatist political and religious ideology of her senders and by her own personal trauma and desire for revenge. As many of the dozens of “Black Widows” that have gone before her; she is both a widow and traumatically bereaved.
Russian forces gunned down her husband, a rebel insurgent, last February as she sat in the car beside him. Wounded as well, she escaped death. Now she is willingly seeking it—after having trained under the protection of a Dagestani group that has already successfully dispatched female bombers to Moscow—one of them having caused a deadly explosion in the metro there in March 2010.
A Russian police officer searches a driver as his vehicle is also screened at an entrance to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games park, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. The Olympics begin on Feb. 7. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Oksana Aslanova, another of the Dagestani women, like Ruzanna, is also traumatically bereaved. She is ready to avenge her husband’s death—Emir Valedjanov, the leader of the rebel group Jamaat Sharia of Dagestan was also killed by Russian forces. Upon his death, Oksana volunteered to become a suicide bomber and prepared to detonate herself last June on the Day of Russia in Dagestan, but she had to wait as the operation was postponed. Oksana is now believed to be hidden somewhere near Sochi—filled with the desire to “martyr” herself.
Zaira Allieva and Dzannet Tshakhaeva, the other two women thought to be a part of the plot, were good friends of Naida Asilova. In October 2013, Asilova exploded herself on a packed bus in Volgograd. A week later the two women fled Dagestan and are also believed to be in the vicinity of Sochi, ready to attack.
President Putin swears that his security is tight, yet posters of the women have been widely disseminated, and there is clearly a race to see who will win in this fight against terror.
On the side of the state, Putin’s security apparatus is heavy handed, arresting and intimidating innocent family members of missing rebels throwing them in prisons as they have in the past. On their side, the Caucasus terrorists have shown themselves to have well placed terror cells, highly motivated cadres—whose motto is “Victory or Paradise”— who are clearly unafraid to die for their cause. They have a demonstrated capacity for small scale but terrifying attacks—successfully detonating in transportation hubs and places where the public congregates.
While they may not be able to penetrate the actual Olympic venue, if past experience with bribing corrupt security officials is a measure of security it doesn’t bode well for public safety. In the Beslan attack, the terrorists admitted to their hostages that they paid only small bribes to pass through Russian security checkpoints. And they also had managed to arrange for a cache of guns stored under the floorboards of the school prior to the attack. These terrorist cells also incredibly managed to place explosives hidden under the review stand of then Chechen President Kadyrov, who when he stood to proudly review the might of the Russian forces passing before him was remotely detonated—killing him and ending the festivities.
The Belsan school following the 2004 hostage crisis. Credit: Thomas Alboth
Does this mean the terrorists may have a cache of guns already hidden inside the Olympic venue and will stage a Munich-style attack on the actual athletes?
Unlikely—given that their present leader, Doku Umarov found the public outrage over the Beslan school children too high a price to pay in trying to achieve his terrorist goals. At that time he swore off of suicide attacks and attacking civilians, although since summer he’s sworn back on to suicide attacks. Yet he would likely have reservations about specifically gunning down the athletes themselves—knowing it would cause the same type of backlash and public outrage for his group.
So while the four women who are on the loose continue to be a serious terrorist threat, it’s not only suicide attacks that may be staged for this Olympics. Clearly through bribes and prior planning these terrorists have shown a capacity to stage any number and types of attacks and the Russian security forces that are the barrier to stopping them aren’t immune to corruption.
While everyone hopes this Olympics will be unmarred by terrorism, the terrorists have already achieved some of their goals. Ticket sales are down; country delegations are carefully considering who to send and who to keep home in the interest of safety. The terrorists have managed to dominate the news—causing attention to be paid to both them and their cause.
And, unfortunately for Russia, they are one of the only resistance movements with teeth—able to make any stand against Putin’s dismantling of the constitution and anti-democratization of Russia. Showing their might in Sochi may be gaining them many more adherents in the region.
Chechen, and now Dagestani women have been in the terrorist fight since rebel leader Shamil Basaev shifted the Chechen’s fight for independence from a secular separatist movement to a militant jihad. He made this decision after being influenced by the middle easterner Khattab who convinced him that the only way to win, after two grievous wars, against the overwhelming Russian military was for the Chechen rebels to adopt the martyrdom ideology and begin a campaign of suicide terrorism.
When “martyrdom” operations were adopted in 2000, two Chechen women were the first to go as suicide bombers. Over 115 suicide bombers waging a campaign of over 25 attacks followed them. These included men and women exploding themselves on Russian planes, buses, trains, subways and at checkpoints; taking 800 hostages in a Moscow theater; and over 1,300 hostages—mostly women and children in a school in Beslan. Terrorist women have been solidly represented in all of these attacks—making up 50 percent of the suicide bombers.
Putin may now regret carpet bombing Grozny in the second Chechen war of independence and causing nearly half of the Chechen population to flee the country. Now, some sympathetic to the cause, holding “clean” passports from countries like Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, even the U.S. –where they took asylum—could now reappear to join the fight.
And now the terrorist movement has spread throughout the region infecting nearby Dagestan and Ingushetia, and with the Olympics being held in Sochi spreading even further. While each of us cheers on our athletes and hopes for the safety of all, the terrorist cauldron boils on in the Russian Caucasus. Let’s hope it doesn’t boil over during the Olympics.
Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the Medical School and author of "Talking to Terrorists." She conducted psychological autopsies of over half of the Chechen suicide terrorists, interviewed hostages from Beslan and Nord Ost and has interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world.
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