The ‘Black Widow’ of Sochi


37,000 extra troops are being brought in to Sochi to man the so-called ‘Ring of Steel’, in spite of these seemingly inordinate measures, the whereabouts of one person in particular is causing a degree of concern for the Russian authorities.

Ruzanna Ibragimova is one of 4 women suspected of having intentions to attack the games.
Ruzanna Ibragimova is one of 4 women suspected of having intentions to attack the games.

The individual in question is a woman, Ruzanna Ibragimova. She belongs to a group females evocatively named the ‘black widows’. A ‘black widow’ is supposedly motivated by vengeance for a personal loss. Ibragimova, like the 3 other female suspects, is the widow of a militant killed by Russian forces in the Caucasus region. The 22 year-old is alleged to have intentions to attack Sochi and is feared to have have broken the tight security ring around the city.

You don’t have to look far to see what Ruzanna Ibragimova looks like, with wanted posters in various hotels and airports in Sochi, it is clear that these women are being considered as a genuine threat. The Russian security forces have every right to be concerned, after all, in the past female bombers have been extremely successful in bypassing even the most stringent of security measures.

Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 film, ‘The Battle of Algiers’, demonstrate the capability of female bombers. In one scene, 3 females successfully evade French checkpoints to plant three bombs in the French zone of the city, the ensuing blast results in horrific devastation. We could debate the use of films as historical resources all day. However, even if the accuracy of this film is questionable, events of the last decade or so certainly vindicate what it portrays: that females are becoming a hugely dangerous weapon that security forces are struggling to get to grasps with.

The use of suicide bombers is not a new feature of warfare, with no need of an exit-strategy, low cost implementation and a high probability of inflicting significant casualties – attacks of this nature are becoming all to familiar.

Battle of Algiers (1)
In ‘The Battle of Algiers’ female bombers are used against the French.

Why specifically a female bomber then? In 2002, Hamas, rejected the use of females in such a way, yet in 2004, they unleashed their first female suicide bomber. Why this change in tactics? Hamas had denounced the use of women on the grounds of it being ‘against modesty’, not on a lack of faith in their operational value. The most plausible explanation, is that security forces have become more proficient in searching and identifying threats. With a female, there is a certain reluctance to search adequately, if it all – an error so ruthlessly exploited in ‘The Battle of Algiers’. Perhaps there is even disbelief that females would partake in such brutality, this is purely speculation but not altogether unconvincing as an explanation. It has also been suggested that the psychological impact of female bombers is much greater, as it only increases the web of suspicion and fear among the security forces and the local populace. That being said, it is certainly misleading to say that female bombers are completely attached to such overarching tactics and strategies – as demonstrated by the ‘black widows’ – personal motivation can be hugely powerful driving force.

The Russian security forces are quite familiar with the capabilities of female bombers. In the year 2000, two Chechen women entered a military base in Chechnya riding a truck packed with explosives, killing 27 Russian soldiers. The 1,500 mile ‘Ring of Steel’ may seem excessive, and although its necessity is not solely dictated by the threat of these 4 women, the authorities will be keenly aware of its importance in preventing such attacks. If the history of this field has taught us anything, it is that female bombers are very capable of attacking high profile targets, in 1991 the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a female suicide bomber. With a much swelled population in Sochi and the presence of certain dignitaries and high profile targets, the importance of such security seems especially apparent.

The most devastating example of an attack by female bombers occurred in 2008, where 99 lost their lives at two popular Baghdad pet markets. The terrifying ease with which these female bombers inflicted devastation is obvious, however, females haven’t until recently been acknowledged by the FBI as an active group of Al Qaeda. It is clear, therefore, that the strong measures being employed in Sochi are necessary, and, in part, necessitated by a fear of this threatening new group of attackers.

With the world watching, security has been maximised at the games.
With the world watching, security has been maximised at the games.

We are now well within an age where war has taken a new face, where rigid frontlines and state-on-state warfare seem a distant memory. We can only hope that female bombers do not become just another familiar feature of warfare in our time.