In Dagestan, Marked as a Terrorist

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Those labeled "black widows" find it impossible to go on with their lives. 


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Zaira, a petite woman living in Makhachkala, the bustling capital of the Russian Republic of Dagestan, recently gave birth to a boy. But many think of her as a potential killer, not a mother. On a recent trip to a grocery store, she said, customers pointed and said, "Here comes the martyr."

The young woman said she prefers to stay "locked between the four walls" of her apartment rather than confront the accusing looks of strangers in this largely Muslim region of southern Russia.

What has turned into a nightmare for Zaira began last spring after two women blew themselves up on the Moscow subway, killing 40 and wounding more than 100 passengers.

Like Zaira, their former husbands were slain insurgents from Dagestan who had battled Russian forces. Because a number of suicide bombers targeting Moscow have been the wives of dead rebels, they have been dubbed "black widows." Newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda published the photographs of 22 actual and potential "black widows," with personal information.

The first portrait on the list was of one of the Moscow Metro bombers. The headline said: "One thousand widows and sisters of Dagestan guerrillas help terrorists."

Zaira's picture was among the 22, an unmistakable accusation that she was a potential suicide bomber. She lost her job and had to take her older son out of public school. 

"How reckless of them to put me on that list!" said Zaira. "If I wanted to commit a terrorist attack, I would have not lived openly in Dagestan's capital. I would not have enrolled my son in school."

Russia's security agencies tend to label all fundamentalist Muslims-called Wahhabis by the police, even though they do not always accept that term themselves-as terrorist suspects. And the police have engaged in sometimes brutal tactics in an attempt to suppress a violent insurgency, according to human rights activists. 

"Your house gets burned, and you and your family may "disappear" or be murdered," said Tatyana Lokshina, of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch. "Brutal methods and the lack of tolerance for religious views push youth into the underground."

But police insist they are fighting a deadly enemy across the Caucasus. Recently they arrested Fatima Yevloyeva, 22, a sister of Magomed Yevloyev, the suspected suicide bomber who recently struck at Domodedovo airport, killing 36 people in the arrivals area.

Investigators said Yevloyeva had traces of explosives on her hands. Fatima's husband, a suspected insurgent, was killed last summer.

Last year, 68 people died and 195 were injured in 112 attacks in Dagestan. Human Rights Watch reported 20 abductions and 8 murders of fundamentalist Muslims by the police in Dagestan in the last six months of 2010.

According to Ivan Sydoruk, deputy prosecutor general, there were twice the number of terrorist attacks in 2010 than in 2009 in the entire North Caucasus.

"The development of civil society institutions that would protect human rights is the solution to Dagestan's partisan war," Lokshina said.

Gennady Gudkov, a member of parliament and the security committee, complained that parliament has no control over the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, the agency charged with leading the campaign against terrorism. 

"We deputies are not allowed to investigate the Committee's work," he said. "So it is a big secret what methods they are using to fight terrorism. We have no idea."  
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