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Authors: Mia Bloom


BOOK: Bombshell
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Published by the Penguin Group

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First published 2011

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (RRD)

Copyright © Mia Bloom, 2011

Author representation: Westwood Creative Artists

94 Harbord Street, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1G6

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

Manufactured in the U.S.A.


Bloom, Mia, 1968–

Bombshell : the many faces of women terrorists / Mia Bloom.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-670-06982-8

1. Women terrorists. 2. Terrorism. I. Title.

HV6431.B5758 2011    363.325082    C2010-906198-5

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To my loving husband, John, for everything he does and everything he is



Prologue: Moscow, March 2010

   A Brief History of Terror and the Logic of Oppression

   The Black Widow Bombers

   The “Pregnant” Bomber

   The Scout

   The Future Bombers

   The Crucial Links

   The Recruiters and Propagandists

   The Fours Rs plus One


Select Bibliography




As the number of female terrorists and suicide bombers has increased several hundredfold in the past few years, the trend has been accompanied by a barrage of misinformation and misperception about what is actually going on. Many people have assumed that women could not consciously choose to participate in terrorism of their own volition. The underlying assumption is that
a man made her do it
. In their attempts to explain women's involvement in terrorism for a general audience, journalistic accounts have presented a far too simple and unidimensional account of the phenomenon.

We need to work past gender stereotypes and begin to examine the conditions that really influence female violence. We do not want to excuse the women's behavior, nor do we want to denude their actions of their political motivation. Lots of women are just as bloodthirsty as the male members of terrorist groups, but women's motivations tend to be intricate, multi-layered, and inspired on a variety of levels. Anger, sorrow, the desire for revenge, and nationalist or religious zeal coalesce in ways that make any simple explanation impossible. Given that terrorist groups gain so much from women's participation, it is far easier to understand why terrorist groups seek female activists than to explain why women oblige them by heeding the call to action.

I have attempted to make these complexities accessible for as wide an audience as possible, from the general reader to the counterterrorism analyst. I aim to clarify the various reasons why women might choose terror and to explain the many roles they take on when they make that choice.

My work has always sought to bridge the divide between political science and policy. To understand what is going on, I have found we need to better understand the past. If we fail to take into account the history of violence, we will never be able to anticipate what is likely to happen in the future.

The stories presented in this book shed light on the conditions under which women are mobilized themselves or mobilize others for terrorism. The book also explains the unique pressures women face during conflict and how they can become involved in the struggle, sometimes against their will. The women presented here encompass a spectrum of involvement and provide an insider's view of the many faces of women and terror.

A few comments regarding names. Where possible, I have used the most common transliterations, although this poses some problems when multiple spellings exist simultaneously. For Russian names, the female patronymic always includes an
, and so within the same family, the women's last names will be Ganiyeva, for example, while the men's will be Ganiyev. I have followed standard usage in academic literature and used the
rather than the
for Russian transliteration—for example, Basayev rather than Basaev or Besaev. Also, where either a
or a
is used, I have deferred to the
, and so, for instance, have used the name Vagapov rather than Vagabov, although both occur in journalists' accounts.

For Chechen names, an additional complication is that Chechens often have official names, which appear on their passports but are rarely used within the family, and nicknames, regularly used at home. For the purposes of consistency, I have provided the
reader with both. In many cases the nickname makes sense, and Raisa becomes Reshat, for example; in other cases, however, the nickname has little or no connection to the passport name, and thus Fatima might become Milana.

As for Arabic names, I have used the most common spelling for the names of individuals and organizations, although this too might cause some confusion. Thus the Lebanese terrorist group Party of Allah, more commonly known as Hizb‘allah, can be spelled as Hezbollah, Hizbullah, Hizbollah, or Hizballah. I have chosen the most anglicized version, Hezbollah. The same considerations apply to the name Muhammed, which can also be spelled as Muhammad or Mohammed. Where possible, I have provided the reader with the simplest translations of foreign material when I have used sources in Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, or Russian.



In the early-morning hours of Monday, March 29, 2010, two men and two women left an apartment in central Moscow. They had used the apartment as a base where they had assembled two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the form of belts, which the women had then wrapped around their stomachs. Each IED contained between two and three hundred grams of explosive and one was packed with nails to maximize the carnage.

A second apartment in the city housed more explosives—up to one kilo of TNT—for future attacks. The apartment had been rented by Akhmed Rabadanov, who had allegedly accompanied the two women from Dagestan to Moscow and eventually taken them to the Sokolnicheskaya or Red Line subway that traverses the center of the city.
Along its route are some of Moscow's most important buildings, including the Russian Duma (parliament), the Kremlin, Red Square, and, significantly, the headquarters of the old KGB, now occupied by its successor, the Federal Security Forces or FSB.

The younger of the two women, Djennet Abdurakhmenova (a.k.a. Abdullaeva), boarded the train headed toward the Ulitsa Podbelskogo station around 8:20
The rush-hour crowd filled
the cars to capacity and she had to stand in the middle of the fifth car for the whole journey. As many as half a million commuters were riding the trains that morning. As people rushed in and out of the car and the train made its way through the center of the city, Djennet looked at her watch nervously. The train was taking longer than usual to reach its destination. Instead of six minutes, it was taking more than twenty minutes, and the delay seemed to agitate her. The attacks were planned to occur consecutively to achieve maximum psychological impact, and Djennet wanted to make sure that she kept as close to schedule as possible.

Djennet wore a bulky purple jacket to hide the bomb, but the jacket looked far too big for her tiny frame. Her exotic Asian features were hallmarks of a mixed Azeri-Kumyk parentage. Muscovites were now chronically afraid of Chechen women, and a few shot nervous glances in her direction, even though it had been five years since a female suicide bomber had launched an attack on the Moscow metro. Djennet's baby face made her look very young, but her strange demeanor and behavior did not match her innocent appearance.

In the middle of the car twenty-three-year-old Sim eih Xing, a Malaysian medical student from Penang, stood behind Djennet and observed her curiously. Djennet's posture was all wrong and her pupils were dilated; she barely blinked at all. Xing assumed that she was on drugs or perhaps mentally ill, and he slowly moved away from her. As he brushed past her, he confirmed that there was definitely something wrong with her. But his thoughts drifted to his impending surgical exams and how tired he was from the challenges of medical school. For reasons that Xing still cannot explain, he decided to exit the train three stops early, at Park Kultury, though he had planned to stay on until Okhotny Ryad. The Red Line trains were stopping and starting every few minutes, frustrating everyone on board. Later, people would realize that the
delay had been caused by the first bomb, which rocked Moscow's metro at the Lubyanka station at 7:52

BOOK: Bombshell
3.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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