Chechen bombed Russian jet 'in revenge for brother's death'

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The Independent Online

One of the prime suspects in last week's probable suicide bombing of two Russian airliners, a 27-year-old Chechen woman, was yesterday revealed to have had a compelling motive for her alleged actions: revenge.

One of the prime suspects in last week's probable suicide bombing of two Russian airliners, a 27-year-old Chechen woman, was yesterday revealed to have had a compelling motive for her alleged actions: revenge.

Amanta (also known as Aminat) Nagaeva experienced the sharp end of the brutal decade-long conflict between Russia and the separatist region first hand, according to her neighbours in Chechnya.

Three or four years ago, one of her three brothers was suspected of terrorism and was abducted, apparently by federal Russian forces. Like many others who have suffered the same fate he has never been seen again and is presumed dead.

The Russian daily Izvestia said her profile fitted that of the archetypal Chechen female suicide bomber ­ Black Widows, as they are often known. "As experience shows, practically all the female suicide bombers who have blown themselves up in Moscow or the Caucasus were the wives of [rebel] fighters killed in battles with federal forces or had lost close relatives involved in the hostilities," the paper wrote.

"Nagaeva had an obvious motive to become a suicide bomber; by blowing herself and the plane up she was avenging her brother." Nagaeva was on a TU-134 bound for Volgograd which broke up in mid-air 120 miles south of Moscow, while the other prime suspect, a Chechen woman known only as S Dzhebirkhanova, was on a TU-154 heading for the Black Sea resort of Sochi which dropped out of the air within minutes of the other plane. Eighty-nine people died in the two explosions.

Investigators' suspicions were aroused when nobody came to identify the two women's bodies, and their fears that the catastrophe was man-made were confirmed when the FSB security service uncovered traces of a high explosive traditionally favoured by Chechen rebels in the wreckage of one of the planes.

The two women's behaviour was also suspiciously similar. Both checked in at the very last minute, provided minimal passport data to check-in and security staff and sat towards the rear of the planes near the toilets and the engines. Both also appear to have been at the very epicentre of the explosions.

In the case of Nagaeva, what remained of her body was spread over a wide area with investigators finding first a leg, then her head and finally her rib cage. Such a gruesome and wide distribution of body parts is familiar to Russian investigators. The body of the Chechen suicide bomber who blew herself up last December near the Kremlin was similarly dismembered.

The revelations of the women's apparent roles emerged as Russian authorities announced they had found traces of the explosive hexagon in the wreckage of the second airliner. The previous day, similar traces had been found in the wreckage of the TU-154 that crashed in southern Russia, evidence, said officials, that the plane was brought down by a terrorist act. Both planes crashed on Tuesday night after taking off from Moscow's Domodedovo airport, one of Russia's most modern and sophisticated air hubs. The findings of explosives indicated significant weaknesses in security for the air transport network that spans the sprawling country.

The timing of last week's tragedy was also significant; five days before today's presidential elections in Chechnya and close to what would have been the birthday of Akhmad Kadyrov, the previous Chechen president who was murdered in May. Chechen rebels are notorious for the strong sense of symbolism behind the timing of their attacks on Russian targets.

An obscure Islamist group called the "Islambouli Brigades" has also claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they were designed to punish Russia for its unofficial war in Chechnya. Investigators believe that the bombs, which may have been as small as a bar of soap or may have been in the form of the traditional suicide belt donned by Black Widows, were detonated in the toilets so as to immediately pulverise the planes' twin engines.

Russian media have speculated that the two women received inside help from someone working at Domodedovo to smuggle the explosives aboard. The firm in charge of airport security has already admitted that there are "holes" in the security screening process and that it only uses its best detection equipment on a selective basis.

Inspectors found serious shortcomings at the same airport in May, and in the wake of last week's double disaster President Vladimir Putin ordered airport operators to be stripped of their responsibility for security in favour of the Ministry of the Interior.

Mr Putin had hoped that today's presidential election in Chechnya (which is expected to be won easily by a Kremlin-backed candidate) would cover the republic in a Moscow-manufactured veil of normality. But that hope died with the two airliners' 89 passengers.

"When such a horrific terrorist act happens," said Masha Lipman of Moscow's Carnegie Centre, "the whole demonstration of a political process becomes futile."