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Last Updated: Monday, 7 July, 2003, 19:27 GMT 20:27 UK
Chechnya's female bombers
By Steven Eke
BBC's Russian Affairs Analyst

One of the most shocking aspects of recent Chechen rebel suicide attacks has been that many of the perpetrators were women.

Woman rescued from Moscow theatre siege
Chechen women first appeared on the scene during the Moscow theatre siege
Russian President Vladimir Putin says they have adopted the tactics of Middle Eastern terrorist organisations - and will be, in his words, "wiped out".

Yet Chechen women have traditionally not featured prominently as fighters in the conflict, and little research has been done into their motivations.

The research that has been done shows a high degree of support for taking up arms.

It also reveals the absolute desperation of many Chechen women's lives.

Women are the forgotten part of the Chechen war. Since the mid 1990s, when the conflict began, they have featured mainly as refugees.

Specialists say nearly all Chechen women in the conflict areas are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders
Hundreds of thousands of Chechen women have fled their homeland and sought shelter in often dismal conditions in neighbouring regions.

But now, there is the new reality of female Chechen suicide bombers.

First seen during last year's Moscow theatre siege, they have conducted a number of bloody attacks in the subsequent months.

Changes in outlook

Some Russian officials say this is "Palestinianisation" of the conflict - proof enough of the links they claim exist between Chechnya and international terrorism.

But the realities are more complicated. Russia's military campaign on the ground in Chechnya has consistently targeted young men.

Women as potential fighters have been largely left out of Moscow's strategic thinking.

At the same time, research shows that important changes have taken place in the outlook of many Chechen women.

Most crucially, a growing - and now widespread - sympathy for the idea of martyrdom.

The realities of life for Chechnya's women appear to shed light on why this should happen.

Specialists say nearly all Chechen women in the conflict areas are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders.

Three-quarters have lost relatives, 60% have had their homes destroyed and at least half are unemployed.

It is a picture sorely at odds with what Moscow portrays as the actions of a few die-hard rebel fighters determined to prevent the return of normality to Chechnya.

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