Sochi Suicide Bomber Threat: Why Terrorists Use Women


She goes by the name of "Salima" and has a big red scar on her left cheek. This 23-year-old from the Dagestan province of Russia -- whose husband was killed by Russian security forces last year -- is now considered a serious threat to bombing the Sochi Winter Olympic games that begin in two weeks.

Rosana Ibragimova is one of the so-called "Black Widows," women recruited by Islamic separatists groups in the conflict-ridden provinces of Chechnya and Dagestan that have been committing suicide attacks since 2000.

But why do such groups use women? Terrorism experts say they have a huge advantage over men when it comes to infiltrating security checkpoints.

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"They can carry things internally and most security people aren't going to inspect your breasts," said Anne Speckhard, author of "Talking to Terrorists," a study of suicide bombers, and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine.

"Most male checkpoint people would be tough with men, but not comfortable putting their hands everywhere on a woman. Plus, women are good at distracting men with conversation and other ways."

Speckhard noted that suicide bombers have also bribed their way past security checkpoints, something that could occur in the city of Sochi -- although perhaps not at the Olympic venues, which are more tightly controlled by elite level forces.

Since the Chechnya independence movement began using suicide bombers in the early 2000s, more than half have been women. Women were involved at the takeover of a Moscow theater in 2002, at the Beslan school takeover in 2004, and more recently at two separate attacks in Volgograd in December that killed 34 people.

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On Monday, Russia announced it was looking for four potential female suicide bombers, one of whom was already in Sochi. Last year, when Russian security forces began a more stringent search of women suspects, it backfired, according to Mia Bloom, professor of security studies at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and author of "Bombshell: Women in Terrorism."

She noted that after the Russian parliament passed a law allowing women wearing traditional clothing to be strip-searched, many Islamic communities have became upset as a result.

"When you use women, it's a win-win proposition," Bloom said. "It's a great way to sneak in weapons or bombs, and if they are searched, it outrages the population."

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