Who Are Russia's 'Black Widows'?

Experts say some 50 women have been used in terrorist attacks in Russia throughout the past decade.

Who Are Russia's 'Black Widows'?
Russian Security Services / BlogSochi.Ru

In Russia, they're called shahidka. In the media, they've been dubbed the "Black Widows."

Like this woman — Ruzanna Ibragimova. Russian authorities have plastered Sochi with "wanted" posters of her face and fear she might already be inside the city, planning an attack on the Olympics. (Via CNN

According to Blog Sochi, she was spotted on the streets of the Olympic venue. Ibragimova is the wife of an Islamic militant killed by Russian security forces last year. (Via BlogSochi.Ru

It's a familiar storyline — a Russian widow seeking to avenge her husband or male relative's death by carrying out her own an attack on civilians.

Such was the case in October, when a female suicide bomber set off a bomb in the Russian city of Volgograd, killing five. (Via RT

In 2010, same thing. Two women were to blame for bombing the Moscow subway system, killing 40 people, including themselves. (Via BBC)

Russia's "Black Widows" first gained notoriety in 2002, when 41 Chechen separatists — 19 of them women wearing explosive belts — stormed a Moscow theater, taking 850 people hostage. (Via History Channel

In all, experts estimate some 50 female suicide bombers have attacked Russia in the last decade.

These women hail mostly from the predominantly Muslim republics of Dagestan and Chechnya, volatile regions that have become hotbeds for Islamic extremism throughout the years. (Via Google Earth)

It's hard to describe what motivates them without oversimplifying, although it's believed many feel they have nowhere to turn.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism​ describes the women in this way: “Many Chechen widows have been convinced by separatists that they have become burdens and that the loss of their husband was a punishment for their sins, leaving suicide bombing as their last resort."

​​A writer at The Daily Beast offers further insight: "The black widows often find themselves marginalized after a husband's death—which further propels them toward radical Islam in a vicious cycle."

Russian authorities are now on the lookout for three more women who might have slipped past Sochi's ring of security. (Via NBC

Some 80,000 Russian security forces have been deployed to ensure security at the Olympics, although experts warn targets outside of the Sochi are still vulnerable to attack.