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Terrorism in Sochi and the Black Widows of Dagestan!

Interesting Article: "Russian forces hunt Dagestan militants, 'black widows'". By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN, Published Tuesday, January 21st, 2014.

An interesting article mentioned that police killed a suspected militant leader in a shootout in Russia's restive republic of Dagestan, state media said Tuesday, amid increasing security concerns ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. It's also emerged that Russian authorities are hunting two more 'black widow' suspects -- a notorious type of terrorist that's emerged in Russia's clashes with Chechen separatists. There have been years of unrest linked to an Islamist insurgency in Dagestan and the North Caucasus region, and Islamist militants have vowed to strike at the Games. So who are these black Widows?

 In prior posts I have spoken about a prominent 'black widow' that was being hunted by are intelligence teams. Please read my previous posts regarding her.

In addition, I wanted to go over the Dagestan conflict to understand at least somewhat where all this began.

Chechnya and Dagestan are two federal subdivisions of Russia, both in the country's far southwest. They're small, mountainous, predominantly Muslim and have been marked by years of conflict and independence movements.

The regions are known for their diversity and scenic beauty, but they've also sadly become famous as flashpoints of internal Russian conflict.

To understand that you have to know that it's been almost 200 years since they were independent. In the early 1800s, Russian Tzar Nicholas I led an invasion of the Caucasus, including the regions we now know as Chechnya and Dagestan. After decades of fighting, they were incorporated into Imperial Russia, and have been under some form of Russian rule ever since.

Chechnya, and to a lesser extent Dagestan, have periodically rebelled against Moscow in a sometimes-violent effort to secure independence. Some of this violence has been led by separatists and some by "jihadists" who profess an extreme version of Islam. Some of it has been directed at local, pro-Moscow governments, some of it at people in Moscow itself and, during some of the worst years after the fall of the Soviet Union, against Russian troops sent to the region to put down the uprisings.

The First Chechen War began in 1994. A few years earlier, when the Soviet Union dissolved and its various regions either seceded or negotiated their place in the new Russian Federation, Moscow's talks with Chechen representatives fell apart. Nationalist movements had been gaining momentum in Chechnya for years, some of them armed, and in 1991 a former Soviet Air Force general maneuvered his way into becoming the president of Chechnya, after which he quickly declared independence. Three years later, Russia sent tens of thousands of troops to invade and retake Chechnya.

The First Chechen War, which lasted almost two years, was brutal: Fighting claimed thousands of lives, including many civilians. Chechen groups devolved into insurgencies; Russian troops were accused by human rights groups of summarily executing men in their homes, firing deliberately into civilian areas and, according to one Human Rights Watch report, leading a "massacre" in the town of Samashki that the United Nations says ended in more than 100 civilian deaths. Eventually, Russia retook Chechnya.

The first war and its aftermath, according to a report by the International Crisis Group, "transformed the nationalist cause into an Islamist one, with a jihadi component." Jihadist groups started to rise in influence and, in 1999, a Chechnya-based group invaded the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan. They seized several villages, declared war against Moscow and said Dagestan was now an independent Islamic state. Once again, Russian troops moved in.

The Second Chechen War, like the first, took thousands of lives, including many civilians, leveled wide swathes of the country and was marked by allegations of horrific human rights abuses on both sides. Though the war lasted less than a year, it bled into neighboring Dagestan, as did the decade of insurgency and military presence that followed.

The violence and extremism have spread beyond Chechnya and Dagestan.

Depending on who you ask, the reason for the violence has either changed dramatically over the past 200 years, swaying from separatism to nationalism to Islamism to general lawlessness, or it's been part of a consistent struggle to break free from Moscow's rule.

It's hard to separate the two, particularly given Chechnya's and Dagestan's long and traumatic histories with Moscow. After Chechen insurgents tried and failed to win independence during World War II, for example, Joseph Stalin approved a plan to forcibly relocate more than 400,000 Chechens, sprinkling them throughout the vast Soviet Union and undermining the very idea of a distinct Chechen identity. (Some of them ended up in Kyrgyzstan, which may explain why one of the Tsarnaevs was reportedly born there.) And that 1940s rebellion was itself a partial response to Imperial Russia's deportation of 100,000 Chechens a generation earlier.

The Caucasus conflict has too complicated a history to be pinned on any one group or ideology.
One writer has called the conflict with Moscow "a circular pattern of marginalization, violent rebellion, and deportation that consumed the peoples of the North Caucasus."

A second Crisis Group report, calling the Caucasus conflict the most violent in Europe, explained, "The root causes of violence are as much about ethnicity, state capacity and the region’s poor integration into Russia as about religion."

It's about identity, about law and order or its absence. It's about the still-unresolved questions about Chechnya and Dagestan's place within but still distinct from the larger Russian state.

Recently, a flier was handed out by security forces to hotels in Rostov-on-Don, southeast Russia, names three women it says could carry out a suicide attack planned by militant groups between January 21 and 24, during the Olympic Torch Relay. One of the three, Zaira Nizamudinovna Alieva, was killed in a gun battle over the weekend in Dagestan in which seven militants reportedly died. She had been trained to be a suicide bomber, RIA Novosti cited terrorism officials as saying.
The other two are named as Djannet Kurbanismailovna Tcakhaeva, 34 and Oksana Albertovna Aslanova, 26. Both are from Turkmenistan.

The term "black widow" refers to the belief that these women took the desperate step of becoming suicide bombers in order to avenge husbands or male relatives killed in Russia's long fight against Islamic militants in the Caucasus region. Russian police leaflets circulating in the Olympic host city of Sochi say that one of the women suspected of planning an attack at the Winter Olympics is the widow of a militant. But there have been cases where the bombers' husbands were alive at the time of their attacks, and one failed bomber said it was shame and a lack of money that drove her to terrorism.

It's a tactic that's been used before, to devastating effect, by a Chechen rebel leader named Doku Umarov (please see my posts regarding who he and his organization is). Last June, Umarov released a video that showed him in a forest, flanked by jihadi fighters. He called on Islamist militants to do everything in their power to wreck the Olympics, which he called "satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors." The Russians though are ready for this, with over 26 security personnel for every athlete.

For more than a decade, women have committed many of Russia's worst terror attacks, downing airliners, blowing up subway cars and killing people going to a rock concert.

One of the earliest attacks to draw attention to female terrorists was the 2002 mass hostage-taking at a Moscow theater by Chechen militants — 19 of the 41 attackers were women. The crisis ended with Russian forces pumping narcotic gas into the theater, killing all the attackers and at least 118 of the approximately 850 hostages. Police footage after the raid showed some of the women dead in theater seats with explosives attached to their bodies.

In 2003, two women blew themselves up at the entrance gate to a Moscow outdoor rock concert, killing 14 people.

In the first wave of a shocking series of attacks in 2004, two Russian airliners were brought down with bombs on the same night, killing a total of 79 people. Authorities said both of the bombers were women, and one had a brother who had disappeared in Chechnya.

A week later, a female suicide bomber blew herself up outside a Moscow subway station, killing 10 people. The sister was one of two females among a group that seized some 1,100 hostages the next day at a school in the town of Beslan. Russian forces besieged the school and at least 380 people were killed.

In 2010, twin blasts on the Moscow subway that killed at least 40 people in one day were blamed on women suicide bombers. (She has a 4-inch scar on her left cheek that reportedly came from Russian troops.) Last October, a suicide bomber married to an Islamic militant killed six people on a bus in the southern city of Volgograd, just a few hundred miles (kilometers) from Sochi. Her husband died in a clash with Russian forces a month later.

Police are also circulating posters showing a hijab-clad woman who is identified as Ruzana Ibragimova,22, also known as Salima, said to be the widow of an Islamic militant killed by Russian security forces last year. She has reportedly vowed to take revenge for her husband's death by becoming a "shakhid," or martyr – which, in Russia, has often meant strapping on a suicide vest and killing civilians.  According to the semi-official, Salima was recently spotted on a street in downtown Sochi, and police are now urgently combing the city's hotels for any sign of her.

As the world's attention falls on Sochi for the Winter Olympics, so will the Islamists's goals of disrupting and bringing to the world's stage their extremists beliefs. The faster we find these black widows and eliminate them as a threat, the faster we can move towards a better world.



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