‘Black Widow’ female suicide bombers kill 37 in Moscow metro blasts

Two female suicide bombers detonated their vests during morning rush hour at metro stations in Moscow, killing 37 people and wounding 65 more. The attack was carried out by the Caucasus Emirate’s ‘Black Widows,’ and was foreshadowed by the leader of the terror group in a statement in February.

The first suicide bomber detonated at the Lubyanka metro station at 7:52 a.m. local time, killing 24 people, according to RIA Novosti. The Lubyanka station is near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor of the notorious KGB.

The second blast took place about 40 minutes later, at the Park Kultury station, which is near the Kremlin, killing 13 people.

The FSB said that an estimated four kilograms of explosives was used in the first suicide attack and 1.5 kilograms was used in the second.

“At present the overall number of the dead as a result of the explosions at the Park Kultury and Lubyanka metro stations is 37, and another 65 were wounded,” Irina Adrianova, the spokeswomen for the Ministry for Emergency Situations told ITAR-TASS.

The FSB believes the attacks were carried out by the ‘Black Widows,’ members of the Caucasus Emirate’s female suicide bomber cadre. The chief of the FSB said the heads of two women have been recovered at the blast sites. The Black Widows are typically wives or daughters of family members killed during the wars against the Russians in Chechnya.

The Black Widows have targeted Russian civilians and security personnel in multiple attacks, including: the attack on the Nord-Ost Moscow theater in 2003 (129 killed); an assassination attempt against Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov (14 killed); a suicide attack on a train in Southern Russia (46 killed); a dual suicide attack at a rock concert at Tushino Airfield in Moscow (16 killed); the destruction of two Russian airliners in 2004 (more than 90 killed); and the attack on a school in Beslan in North Ossetia (334 killed).

The Black Widows are female suicide bombers within the Riyad-us-Saliheen, or Garden of Paradise, martyr brigade.

“Riyad [the Riyad-us-Saliheen martyr brigade] is believed to be descended from two other Chechen terrorist organizations led by [former Chechen terrorist leader Shamil] Basayev, the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR) and the International Islamic Brigade (IIB),” according to the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism datatbase. “It has even been suggested that Riyad is simply the result of the marriage of these two groups.”

In the spring of 2009, Doku Umarov, the current leader of the al Qaeda-linked Caucasus Emirate, reignited the Chechen insurgency by launching a wave of suicide attacks in the Caucasus and broadening the battle beyond the Chechen border. In April 2009, Umarov revived the Riyad-us-Saliheen martyr brigade, which has spearheaded the assault.

The Riyad-us-Saliheen martyr brigade’s most recent successful operation was the wounding of the president of the Republic of Ingushetia in June of 2009.

A cell associated with Sayeed Buryatsky, the slain ideologue of Caucasus Emirate, may have carried out today’s attack. On March 2, Russian security forces killed Buryatsky and five other terrorists during a raid in Ingushetia. Buryatsky was the mufti for the Caucasus Emirate.

During an interview this February with the pro-terrorist Kavkaz Center, Umarov threatened to conduct attacks using the Riyad-us-Saliheen in the heart of Russia. He also reiterated that the Riyad-us-Saliheen was back in action.

“The zone of military operations will be extended to the territory of Russia,” Umarov told Kavkaz. “Praise be to Allah, the past year has shown us, and also to all who had some doubts, to Putin and Nurgaliyev (Russian interior minister -KC) that the Brigade of Martyrs, Riyad-us-Saliheen, has been really recreated and is in action.”

“We witnessed many special operations by this Brigade during the last year,” Umarov said. “The Martyrs’ Brigade is replenished with the best among the best of the Mujahideen and if the Russians do not understand that the war will come to their streets, that the war will come to their homes, so it is worse for them.”

“Blood will no longer be limited to our (Caucasus) cities and towns,” Umarov continued. “The war is coming to their cities. If Russians think the war only happens on television, somewhere far away in the Caucasus where it can’t reach them, inshaAllah (God willing), we plan to show them that the war will return to their homes.”

Background on Russia’s battle against al Qaeda and allied groups in the Caucasus

Over the past two decades, al Qaeda has fought alongside Chechen rebels during two brutal wars against the Russians that are thought to have resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians and thousands of Russian soldiers and Chechen fighters. The bulk of the Chechen resistance was smashed after the Second Chechen War, but al Qaeda and allied Islamist groups continued to operate, and managed to radicalize many of the remaining nationalist rebels.

Russian security forces, backed by local forces in the Caucasus, have had success in decapitating the top leadership of al Qaeda and radical Chechen forces. After killing Khattab in 2002, security forces eliminated his successors; Abu Walid al Ghamdi was killed in 2004, and Abu Hafs al Urdani was killed in 2006.

Russian security forces also killed Saif al Islam al Masri, a member of al Qaeda’s shura and a chief financier, in 2002; and Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Saif al Tamimi (also known as Abu Omar Saif) in 2005. Tamimi served as second in command to Shamil Basayev, the military commander for the Islamic Army in the Caucasus. Basayev and much of his leadership cadre were killed by Russian security forces in 2006.

After Basayev’s death in 2006, the Chechen and Caucasus jihadists united under the command of Doku Umarov, one of the last remaining original leaders of the Chechen rebellion and a close associate of al Qaeda. Prior to that time, Umarov had denied having connections with al Qaeda and rejected terrorist attacks against civilians. But in 2006, Abu Hafs al Urduni announced that the Chechen jihad was being reorganized under the command of Doku Umarov after the death Basayev.

By November 2007, Umarov had declared an Islamic emirate in the greater Caucasus region and named himself the emir, or leader. Russian security forces thought Umarov was killed during a raid in November 2009 that killed several of his close aides, but he has since resurfaced.

On Feb. 2, the Federal Security Service killed Mokhmad Mohamad Shabban, who is better known as Saif Islam, or the Sword of Islam, and an associate during a raid in a mountainous region in the Republic of Dagestan. Shabban has been described as one of the founders of al Qaeda’s operations in Chechnya and the Caucasus.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • John Abraham says:

    I wonder if anyone is still not convinced that the head-to-toe hijab is a security threat.
    The French got it right. When will the rest of the West act?

  • My sympathies are with the victims of this dastardly attack.
    The Russian response, in my view, should be strategic.
    Russia has to go after nations, who, through their “charities” have spread poisonous ideology to certain communities.
    Without the ideology, the intent and the desire to conduct mass murder doesn’t exist.
    There is one and only reason these ideologies were spread — to create the modern version of Islamic conquest.
    Sponsoring communities of offensive jihad in the Middle East must be made to pay.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    Chechen war part 3, then?

  • Mr T says:

    The Russians will never make middle east countries pay. They have been working those countries against the USA since as long as I can remember. They have a lot of trade with those countries and probably view them as strategic depth against the USA.
    They won’t cut off their nose to spite their face.

  • Alex says:

    Mr T,
    I’m not so sure. Modern Russia seems more interested in money, however acquired (so dealing with shady regimes is okay as long as it’s profitable), than fighting the US.

  • kp says:

    John: It’s burka not a hijab (that’s a headdress).

    All reports I’ve seen are the women we’re of Slavic appearance and I presume not in burka (otherwise how would you know?).

  • BraddS says:

    Looking at history, my thinking is that you don’t #$*! with the Russians – they WILL find you and they WILL kill you. Do they have an ACLU yet?

  • T Ruth says:

    Mr T
    What if the Americans and the Russians make an explicit pact on terror?
    What if they don’t?
    The choice is quite limited, actually.

  • Zeissa says:

    The proper strategic response would be to join and aid NATO while boosting current efforts to reverse demographic decline and reeducate all muslims.
    As that’s not going to happen I’m going to hope for increased Russian support in the GWoT and against Iran and continued demographic strengthening and programs to reeducate Islams.

  • Zeissa says:

    So I agree partly with Muthuswamy, and fully ideally.

  • Zeissa says:

    Muthuswamy, I think I’ve read excerpts from your excellent book. However I must question the wisdom of forcing reeducated Muslims to accept Hinduism (and Christianity in historically Christian areas). It seems to me it would not be necessary to do more than simply force them away from Islam and then let them choose. The ideals of reformed liberalism pursue us to take action to restrict freedoms, but only when necessary.
    I suspect this may be influenced by something to do with a link I checked out at your site (IF this indeed was the site and the excerpts I remember). This site held Muslim universities with extremely high Muslim student rates as systematically discriminatory and genocidal for their lesson plans. I’ll agree with both, rates of 70-95% are extreme even for religious schools and their curriculum is atrocious.
    However that linked site also portrayed 20-60% Christian schools as systematically discriminatory. Schools catering to specific groups are expected to behave in such a manner, and from what I’ve seen schools hovering around the 50% mark do not (at least actively) pursue discrimination, it is mostly an effect of market forces.
    Furthermore the article does not go on to show the statistics for Hindu schools, which is extremely suspicious and pulls the rest of the statistics (which I have enough goodwill to still take on face value, besides they seem realistic) into question.
    FURTHERMORE the article, I cannot remember whether it goes into ‘positive discrimination’ in favor of muslims (especiall in Kashmir) which I’ve certainly ascertained to be true, but it definitely does not speak of how it is illegal to convert from Hinduism to Christianity (and perhaps some other religions) in certain provinces in India, OR how they are actively persecuted (which I would expect would drive those university numbers up).
    So while I think your books are great I question most of all your links (which include much good… but also highly questionable material) and your idea of forcing other religions on Muslims rather than simply reeducating them from Islam.
    While I am a Christian myself I find no thing more disgusting than forcing Christianity on people. And practically speaking, convincing them of their follies will be hard enough without forcing our own ideas on them, even utilizing hard force.
    PS. The idea of knocking out their command and control system and schools is great (though violent)! Fantastic even.

  • Paul says:

    The ideology is from our Allies the saudis!
    True axis of Islamism is Saudi, Pakistan and Iran who need dealing with asap!

  • JRP says:

    With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight it can be seen that the U.S.A. erred in overthrowing the Iraqi regime, thereby ridding Iran of its natural enemy; and erred earlier in supporting the Afghans against the Soviet invasion, thereby giving fundamentalist Islamism a great victory.
    To protect itself from Al Qaeda, the U.S.A. should form a pact not just with Russia, but also with India and Israel, two other countries facing the threat of fundamentalist Islamism, for the purpose of bringing ever greater pressure to bear upon the ordinary peoples of Pakistan and Iran to get their governments to hand high value target terrorists over to the West.

  • John Abraham says:

    My point was that it was covering all/most body, whether it covered face or not is inconsequential.
    They were also hiding iron pieces to kill as many civilians as possible.
    “The first pictures of the Black Widows emerged when grisly photographs of their facial remains were circulated to police in a bid to help investigators identify the bombers.”
    See the images here
    The pics seem to be taken after death of these terrorists.
    BTW, much of mass media(I read about 5 articles) is hesitant to use the word “terrorists” to describe these people. I guess its not terrorism if the victims are Russians.

  • KW64 says:

    When Putin beats his chest and in effect says “no more Mr. Nice Guy”, I am not all that impressed. I have assumed that winning hearts and minds was not his strategy and he was doing all he could to eradicate these people all along. The Russian version of counterinsurgency lacks the subtleties of soft power that a Stanley McCrystal or David Petreaus would employ. Fortunately for the Russians, the Wahabi style Al Queda types do an excellent job of alienating even the people most alienated from the governments Al Queda is fighting.

  • Lorenz Gude says:

    I agree with Muthuswamay too – response beyond the tit for tat tactical level is necessary to win the Long War. At the same time I approve of the tactical ruthlessness of the Russians. Because the Russians are regularly killing their leaders the terrorists say they are escalating. Sounds like the Russians are succeeding tactically and that they should increase their efforts and say kill the guy who decided to escalate. At least they are not disabled by lawfare.

  • Neo says:

    Some sort of overblown retaliation is precisely what the extremists want. They’re practically begging for the Russians to take it out on the general Muslim population. What population are the Russians going to retaliate against at this point. The Chechan war is essentially over. The Russians already have a fairly tight security cordon over Chechnya.
    It doesn’t take a whole lot of people to pull off one of these attacks. The outside funding and supply networks still bring in a slow trickle of resources. I’m not sure how many outside personnel are still being brought in. The Russians have improved their police work over the last few years and I would expect them to continue to do so. The long term answer is to methodically root them out.

  • T Ruth says:

    Agree with you–Saudi Iran Paqistan or take that acronym in reverse! Thats the curve of this axis. Thats also the coming curve of the Islamic Bomb network. DC can sit and join the dots later.
    And oops did i say Paqistan….i meant Pakistan…or maybe i didn’t.

  • T Ruth says:

    JRP you make interesting points.
    And i’m all with you on synergistic pacts. But is America doing anything to put pressure on the ordinary peoples of Pakistan? One only hears praise for the Pakistani Army on what a wonderful job they’re doing. One wonders if such disingenuity is endearing.
    Fact of the matter is that Russia, India and China could sort out AfPak on their own faster, cheaper, surer than the 45-nation ISAF alliance but India certainly is keeping her powder dry and the US is too chicken to ask her to join in. China, as the US’s banker has her own reasons to watch from the sidelines. So everybody’s set to cosy up to the kinder-gentler Taliban, including the UN. The whole thing is farcical and, frankly, none of our leaders are thinking straight.
    The US is still thinking inertly in its Cold-War-box, and little, if expanding, NATO circle while Obama is content signing symbolic meaningless nuclear treaties with Russia and making symbolic Presidential visits to Afghanistan that are going to get us nowhere.
    Obama should’ve dropped by Moscow on his way back even if that were for a couple of symbolic hours–now that would be upping the game. Or made Pakistan a little insecure by stopping by in New Delhi–that would be a signal of changing the game. So, its the same old game, nothing Great about it.


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