Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 34

What is it that motivates Chechen women to become suicide bombers, and what might persuade them to stop? Anna Politkovskaya told Chechnya Weekly on September 15 that “it is not quite accurate to say that Shamil Basaev organizes all these attacks.” They are often carried out on an individual basis, she said, and are motivated by a thirst for “personal revenge.” She cited the pioneering case in November, 2001, of a woman who managed to learn which Russian officer had ordered her husband’s abduction and murder. She then killed both that officer and herself with a bomb. It was the Chechen widow herself who planned and carried out that attack, according to Politkovskaya; nobody else even knew about it beforehand.

Politkovskaya emphasized the tremendous importance in Chechen tradition of giving proper burial to the dead. Indeed, her book published earlier this year in Moscow, Vtoraya chechenskaya (“The Second Chechen War”), notes strikingly that federal forces have been able to demand higher ransoms from Chechens for returning the dead bodies of their kidnapped relatives than for releasing them alive. She suggested that if the federal forces would only reveal publicly the precise locations of all the mass burial grounds that now hold Chechen kidnap victims, this would be perceived as a serious “opening step toward reconciliation.” That prediction is “based on my conversations with Chechen women who are ready to become suicide bombers,” she said.