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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 September, 2003, 17:56 GMT 18:56 UK
Inside the mind of a 'black widow'
Victims of the bomb blasts are carried away
"Black widows" were behind the blasts at a concert in July
A Chechen woman has spoken of her mission to become one of the rebel movement's "black widows" - whose husbands have been killed in the war with Russia and who have decided to become suicide bombers.

"Kowa" told BBC World Service's Everywoman programme she intended to kill herself in an attack in Moscow in the near future.

Of seven suicide attacks by Chechen separatists on Russia in the past four months, six have been carried out by women. In total the attacks have killed 165 people.

"I have only one dream now, only one mission - to blow myself up somewhere in Russia, ideally in Moscow," Kowa said.

"To take as many Russian lives as possible - this is the only way to stop the Russians from killing my people.

"Maybe this way they will get the message and leave us alone, once and for all."

Religious conviction

The latest attack by the "black widows" was at a rock concert in Moscow in July, where two women detonated explosive belts, killing 16.

I want revenge - I am ready for it
The two wars in Chechnya have left 100,000 people dead, and although full-scale fighting has currently abated, low-level guerrilla combat is ongoing. It was this that claimed the life of Kowa's husband.

"I met my husband when we were teenagers. We studied together, fell in love, and married two years ago. We had a baby together," she said.

"Just one month ago my husband was killed by the Russians. He was 24 years old.

"He was a rebel fighter and I supported his struggle against Russia."

Kowa said her husband was deeply religious and she had adopted Islam to follow him.

"He talked to me about religion and about Allah, and brought religious books home which I read," she said.

"I got more and more interested in it, and began to wear a headscarf.

"We were both in favour of creating an Islamic state here in Chechnya."

Kowa described what happened after her husband was killed.

"His friends hunted down one of the men responsible and brought him to me so that I could kill him in revenge," she said.

"But I didn't do it. I didn't feel like it, and anyway I have other plans.

"I want revenge. I am ready for it."

Awaiting orders

Kowa, who has left her home and now lives in hiding in Chechnya, said she was even prepared to kill herself despite having a young child.

Chechen women weep for their lost relatives
Most Chechen women have lost relatives in the conflict with Russia
"I have a daughter who is 18 months old, but it's not worth living for my child, not now that my husband is dead," she said.

"I didn't say goodbye to anyone, not even my own daughter.

"My mother-in-law tried to hold me hostage in her house - she was scared that something would happen to me.

"But my commander came and took me away anyway."

She added that she was certain of her fate and felt entirely in control of it: "In my case - as with most cases with female suicide bombers - the motive is revenge. No-one is forcing us and I am not afraid."

"I am preparing for my mission by reading texts and contemplating what I am about to do.

"I am just waiting for the order from my commander."

Moscow-based British journalist Mark Franchetti, who tracked Kowa down, described her as an emotionless "brick wall".

"The most chilling and in many ways depressing thing about meeting her was the complete lack of emotion with which she spoke about what she was about to do," Mr Franchetti said.

"Especially considering she was so young, and she has a small child, she was a brick wall - no emotions whatsoever.

"She spoke in a pre-programmed way, almost as if she was dehumanised."

Shock and shame

Russian authorities have claimed that the "black widows" are brainwashed into carrying out their attacks, or otherwise "raped into submission".

But Mr Franchetti added he doubted this was the case with Kowa.

Russian theatre siege
Women fighters were first seen during the Moscow theatre siege
"I have no doubt that she made the decision herself, but I think to a certain extent she has been also brainwashed from a religious point of view," he said.

"[Her religion] is quite superficial - when I tried to press her about her religious faith she was not really able to explain it very well."

The phenomenon of Chechen women becoming involved in the conflict with Russia first became apparent during the Moscow theatre siege last year.

A great number of the people who carried out the attack were women who had been able to walk into the theatre unchecked.

However, Mr Franchetti pointed out that in contrast with the Palestinian territories, there was no "mass glorification" of those who died in suicide attacks.

"Most of the Chechens react with shock and almost a sense of shame at the fact that women are taking an increasing role in the fighting," he said.

"This is not true of the younger generation, which still reacts with a certain respect."

Chechnya's female bombers
07 Jul 03  |  Europe
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14 Jul 03  |  Europe
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10 Jul 03  |  Europe
Chechnya's suicide battalions
05 Jul 03  |  Europe



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