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The female suicide bomber who killed Dagestan’s most authoritative and influential theologian this week was of Russian origin. She had accepted Islam and went undercover after she married a Wahhabi. Originally the woman was an actress of the Russian theater in Makhachkala and a good break dancer. After this high-profile terrorist attack the secret services may bring the focus on all Russian women who have accepted Islam. However, many say such a measure would be unconstitutional.
Sufi sheikh Said Afandi al-Chirkavi, 74, died in a suicide bomb attack in Dagestan on Tuesday. Many people had considered him as their spiritual teacher and adviser. He had tens of thousands of disciples. The blast claimed the lives of another seven people, including a 12-year-old teenager.
Investigators say the religious activity of Said Atsayev was the main reason behind the attack. He was a representative of one of the traditional trends in Islam – Sufism. Wahhabi militants do not recognize it, and they wage a real war on all followers of that teaching. According to experts the bomb attack was staged in order to disrupt the tendency towards reconciliation among various trends in Islam. Said Afandi was a firm opponent of Wahhabism and an advocate of reconciliation. The previous assassination attempt against him was in November 2007, but the theologian then survived.
The biography of the female suicide bomber looks quite remarkable. Aminat Kurbanova (born Alla Saprykina) was a Russian girl who had accepted Islam and had four husbands successively. All were militants. Her three husbands had been killed and one, responsible for setting fire to shops and supermarkets, turned to the commission for the re-adaptation of militants to peaceful life and got a suspended sentence. In 2011 after the death of her fourth husband, Kurbanova, 30, was trained for a suicide bomb attack.
Alla Saprykina graduated from the actor’s group of the department of culture at the University of Makhachkala to get the top grade red-cover diploma. She found herself among the militants ten years ago, when she met her future first husband, Marat Kurbanov. Both were actors at the Russian Theater in Makhachkala and performed break dance together in a choreographic group. Marat’s elder brother, Renat, was an active militant. After his death Marat went undercover, too. Aminat followed him. By that time she became a firm follower of Wahhabism.
In March 2012, after the death of her third husband Aminat escaped surveillance, when her handlers instructed her to get ready for an act of martyrdom. Secret services kept her under surveillance as a person who had undergone training for staging terrorist attacks. Two attempted attacks in which Aminat had been involved managed to be prevented during the preparation phase.
Experts say ‘Russian Wahhabis’ among the militants in the Caucasus are not an infrequent phenomenon. There were defectors during the Chechen wars, when some soldiers taken prisoner agreed to change faith and use firearms and against their former comrades-in-arms. There were some proselytes after the end of hostilities in Chechnya, too. Upon conversion to Islam they decided to profess its most radical trends, campaigned for Wahhabism and staged terrorist attacks.
A Russian woman’s conversion to Islam is not a massive phenomenon, of course, but it is quite frequent. As a rule young women agree to follow Wahhabism under the influence of their husbands involved in underground militant groups. Experts say that even born Muslims can envy the proselytes’ ideological firmness and loyalty to the canons of Islam.
After the high-profile murder of Sheikh Said Afandi al-Chirkavi the secret services may decide to keep an eye on all Russian women converted to Islam, the daily Izvestia says with a reference to a source in the law enforcement. According to the official, the top officials of law enforcement and secret services are in the process of discussing the measure.
“The woman who adopts Islam gets into a high risk area and the secret services should keep her under firm control,” the daily quotes forensic psychiatrist Mikhail Vinogradov as saying. “Muslim men like Russian spouses very much, because they make far more obedient and good wives than Muslim women. They become utterly defenseless in an alien social environment and can be easily intimidated and brainwashed.”
“As long as such a woman is married to a militant, the status of a wife protects her from any encroachments. But the moment her husband gets killed, she is an easy catch for anyone who may set eyes on her,” a source in the Dagestani Interior Ministry confirms. “All women who get in this sort of situation are subjected to comprehensive psychological pressures. In some cases they are drugged. If the woman’s husband is killed, she is an easy prize to win. After that she is considered disgraced for the rest of her lifetime.”
Vinogradov says the methods of brainwashing future suicide bombers are well-known and polished to perfection. “It’s drugs, both weak and strong, it’s violence, including group sex, and its verbal indoctrination. The woman is told round the clock that she can wash off the shame only with her own blood.”
The idea has many critics, though. The head of the Muslim Board of Russia’s Asian regions, Mufti Nafigulla Ashirov, argues that this initiative – putting all Russian women professing Islam under surveillance - is unconstitutional in principle. “What rules will the people who wish to put the proselytes under surveillance be guided by? After all the article of the Constitution on the freedom of conscience and faith is still there,” he says.
The chairman of the State Duma’s committee for the nationalities affairs, Gadzhimet Safaraliyev is certain that traps should be planted, of course, but not for Russian women. “Secret services must conduct pre-emptive work and have a clear idea of what is going on inside the radical groups,” Safaraliyev explains. “Women of various nationalities agree to marry militants. Quite often, having adopted Islam, they become far more devout Muslims than those who were born and grew up in the Caucasus. But that does not mean that they should be blacklisted?”
The chairman of the State Duma’s committee for the affairs of non-governmental associations and religious organizations, Yaroslav Nilov, believes that the lists of proselytes will cause greater tensions in society. Although he agrees that keeping an eye on women in the risk groups would not be a redundant measure. “Possibly, some sort of special control will make sense. But this control by secret services should be very cautious, delicate and covert.”
Moscow, August 30