Last Sunday, a shocked world watched the televised
confession of Sajida
Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, wife of one of the Amman suicide bombers. The
Iraqi woman, who failed to detonate her explosive belt in the Radisson Hotel
on Nov. 9, appeared cold, detached, and unemotional. At a certain stage she
stood up and paraded in front of the camera with her belt of explosives. "I
sat there watching and couldn't understand how she could be speaking so coldly,"
said Adel Fathi, a 29-year-old Jordanian.
are these people made of?" asked Fathi, who closed his women's accessories shop
early on Sunday and joined millions of others watching the confession.
In October 2002, similar comments of disbelief echoed across the world when
male and female jihadists from Chechnya took control of the Dubrovka
theater in Moscow. Several hostages, when released, commented that the women,
all very young, were more terrifying than the men. There is something sinister
about wives, mother, daughters, and sisters becoming instruments of death. Dressed
in black chadors, with only their eyes visible, the "black widows" of the Dubrovka
theater, as they came to be known, wore their suicide belts over their clothes
and constantly held the detonators, reminding the hostages that they would not
hesitate to blow themselves up if their instructions were not followed. They
were by no means the first female suicide bombers from Chechnya to kill Russians.
Neither were they the youngest. In 2001, a 12-year-old orphan became one of
the first chahidiki, as the Russians call the female Islamist martyrs.
She threw her body holding a bomb against a military road block in Grozny to
avenge the gang rape of her 15-year-old sister by a group of drunken Russian
Rishawi is the second Iraqi woman suicide bomber (the first was an unmarried
student who blew herself up in a market place in Baghdad a few months ago);
however, she is the first one to be exported to Jordan to kill innocent Jordanians,
and it is unlikely that she will be the last. Many more will die to fulfill
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's jihadist dream: to destroy Iraq's "democracy" and bring
down the Jordanian kingdom.
Since the Moscow siege, an army of Chechnya's female suicide bombers has been
exported to Russia and deployed in Chechnya. In February 2004, a Chechen chahid
blew herself up on a Moscow subway train during the morning rush hour, killing
41 other commuters. On Aug. 21 of the same year, 21 people lost their lives
in a similar attack in Grozny. Three days later, two Chechen "black widows"
smuggled bombs onboard two planes, killing 90 passengers in the skies over Russia.
For the jihadists, female suicide bombers are weapons. "We use martyrs because
we do not have the F-16s, Apache helicopters, tanks, and missiles used by the
Israelis," explained Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi in the early 1990s. In
the economic galaxy of terror, women and even children make excellent shaeed
(martyrs) because they occupy the lowest level in the hierarchy of the Islamic
According to Ayman al-Zawahiri, number two in al-Qaeda and the ideological
voice behind suicide missions, the use of suicide bombers is "the most effective
weapon, the one which is able to obtain the maximum of damage with the lowest
cost in terms of deaths of mujahedin." Women are not allowed to become warriors,
to fight in battle next to their men, but they are welcomed as suicide bombers.
No Kalashnikovs for them, only explosive belts. For the jihadist organizations,
their "martyrdom" spares male warriors for other tasks. It follows that attacks
carried out by females are the most effective and "cheapest" type of suicide
Economic considerations are, therefore, at the root of the proliferation of
chahidiki in Chechnya. The life of men is precious because they can be
deployed in the guerrilla struggle; utilizing them in the Moscow subway would
be a waste of resources. Iraqi men are equally valuable. At the end of the 1990s,
Shamil Basayev and
Amir al-Khattab, the
leaders of the Islamist insurrection in Chechnya, saw in the female population
of the region a valuable reservoir of suicide bombers. An entire generation
of women became human weapons. "They grew up during the Russian wars, without
any education; women, adolescents, and children for whom the war became life,
and life is a constant source of fear and terror," explains Zuleikhan Bagalova,
who runs the Chechen Cultural Center in Moscow. The war in Iraq may provide
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi with an equally valuable human reservoir.
Zarqawi was a great admirer of Khattab. In 1999, when he was released from
prison in Jordan, thanks to an amnesty granted in honor of the coronation of
King Abdullah, he wanted to join Khattab in Chechnya and fight the Russians.
Arrested in Pakistan because of an expired passport, he was unable to travel
to Chechnya and fulfill his dream. While in Herat, Zarqawi ran a camp whose
purpose was to produce suicide bombers. He has spent the last five years perfecting
the use of suicide missions as the most powerful and effective tool of the Islamist
armed struggle. As Iraq slides into a permanent state of war, a condition sure
to create a dehumanized generation of war children, Zarqawi will not ignore
the economic and military advantages of female suicide bombers there.
But before an army of female Iraqi suicide bombers hits the Middle East, women
will have to be ready to become martyrs. Zuleikhan Bagalova admits that the
chahidiki are always women who have been deeply traumatized and who,
as a result, seek in death the peace they were unable to achieve in life. These
are women who have been raped in front of their family members; kidnapped and
sexually assaulted; children who have seen their parents killed in front of
their eyes. "After such an experience, they die inside, go mad, or become kamikaze,"
she explains. "For them, life has no meaning."
In "democratic" Iraq, similar atrocities are committed by the ethnic terror
gangs, by the militias, and even by the regular army. A weblog from Baghdad
called Baghdad Burning often
posts terrifying stories of crimes against Iraqi women. A mother of three daughters,
escaping Fallujah before the attack last fall, was stopped at a checkpoint by
a group of Iraqi soldiers; they took the girls and left her alone. When they
returned the daughters, the girls were traumatized and could not stop screaming.
The kidnap and rape of women happens daily in Iraq, often as punishment for
male members of the victim's family. Moreover, women who are raped are often
subsequently killed by male relatives to "cleanse" the family honor. Many women
are stolen from their families and sold as sex slaves. The profits of Iraqi
criminal gangs are booming thanks to this business.
War is war everywhere – in Iraq as well as in Chechnya. History tells us that
if the Iraqi war becomes chronic, a state of permanent conflict as happened
in Chechnya, Iraqi women may seek to share the same terrifying destiny as their