Kostek, Russia When a 16-year-old girl married a militant Islamist separatist entangled in a long-running and bloody struggle against Russian government forces, her relatives in this dusty North Caucasus village say they disowned her immediately.
They knew they could face torture from Russian security forces or even death for associating with the militants, and they knew their Dzhanet Abdurakhmanova, still just a schoolgirl, could easily be killed.
But they never expected her to be dispatched to Moscow as a suicide bomber to blow herself up on a subway train.
Abdurakhmanova, whose husband was killed by government forces in December, and another young widow have been accused of carrying out Monday’s twin suicide bombings, which killed 40 people and injured 90. They were the first suicide attacks in the capital since 2004.
Both women were from the North Caucasus, a patchwork of predominantly Muslim provinces and home to a fierce Islamic insurgency that has been fueled by frequent killings, kidnappings and torture of residents by government forces.
Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov claimed responsibility for the subway attacks, saying they were retaliation for the deaths of four garlic-picking villagers who were slain on Feb. 11.
In Kostek, a poor rural village in the province of Dagestan where Abdurakhmanova grew up, a piercing silence hangs in the air. Men on the main square stare transfixed at newcomers, then turn away whispering. The village feels dangerous even for those who live in the provincial capital, about 60 miles away.
Abdurakhmanova’s suicide attack has brought unwanted attention.
“We turned our back on her when she married that one about two years ago,” said a 20-year-old man, Abdurakhmanova’s cousin, who refused to give his name for fear of reprisals.
“We didn’t have anything to do with Dzhanet and we never wanted to” after her marriage, he said before disappearing into their grandmother’s single-story brick home, one of the nicest in the village.
On Friday, a leading Russian newspaper published a photo of the doe-eyed teenager, partly veiled, in the embrace of a bearded man — both grasping handguns.
The report said Abdurakhmanova met her husband, Umalat Magomedov, in an Internet chat and that he then set up a meeting and drove her away by force when she was still 16.
After her husband’s death, Abdurakhmanova may have fallen under the influence of Islamists, who try to persuade widows and other relatives to sacrifice their lives to avenge their slain husbands, sons and brothers.
The daily Moskovsky Komsomolets said a burned shred of a letter in Arabic found on Abdurakhmanova’s body promised a “meeting in heaven.” It was unclear who wrote the letter.
Her fellow suicide bomber was believed to be 20-year-old Markha Ustarkhanova from Chechnya, the newspaper said.
The militants, who once fought for Chechnya’s independence, are now seeking to create an Islamic state across the North Caucasus. In Dagestan, they carry out attacks almost daily.