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Russia's 'black widows' wreak terror

"Black widows" are blamed for last week's attacks on two Russian airliners and Tuesday's Moscow subway attack.
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Russian troops surround school in Russia where students are being held hostage.
Moscow (Russia)

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- The new wave of violence that has beset Russia this week has yet again highlighted a growing militant threat -- the so-called "black widows."

Chechen women suicide bombers came to prominence almost three years ago in October 2002, when they threatened to blow up a Moscow theater they seized in the middle of a musical.

Russian special forces rescued many of the hostages by pumping gas into the theater -- but 115 of them died, together with 50 hostage takers.

Last year Chechen women were blamed for blasts at a rock concert --which killed 14 -- and outside a hotel. A woman killed at least 17 people after throwing herself under a bus carrying members of Russia's military near Chechnya and detonating explosives.

This week on Tuesday a female suicide bomber killed nine people and herself and wounded 51 others when she detonated a bomb outside a subway station in northeastern Moscow. (Full story)

The bombing marked the second major terrorist attack on Russia in a week, following the near simultaneous attacks of two Russian airliners by what authorities believe were two Chechen women suicide bombers. At least 89 people died in the attacks.

This week's deadly kidnapping of children at a school in North Ossetia reportedly saw at least two women terrorists taking part in the attack. (Full story)

The women known as "black widows" come in their own characteristic "uniform" -- dressed head-to-toe in black and wear the so-called "martyr's belt" filled with explosives.

Kremlin officials say international terrorism is the reason for the increase in women bombers.

"The techniques, the financing, the outside control definitely comes from abroad," Kremlin official Alexander Mochevsky told CNN after the spate of bombings in Moscow last summer.

Many Russians believe these women are being exploited by the terrorists.

"This is absolutely not characteristic of Chechens," Aslanbek Aslakhanov, a member of the Russian parliament, said after last year's attacks.

"Men never send their women to fight in wars. There is no religious aspect to this -- it's psychological ... terrorists exploiting the misfortune of these women," Aslakhanov said.

Some believe Chechen women who have lost husbands and brothers in the war are desperate to seek revenge. The women involved in the Moscow theater attack three years ago sent a message saying they had "nothing to lose."

The motives of the women in this week's school takeover at Beslan were not immediately known.

In last week's attacks on the two airliners, officials said they suspected two Chechen women, who purchased their tickets at the last minute, were involved in the incidents. Eighty-nine people died in those crashes. (Full story)

Authorities have said traces of the explosive hexogen were found in the wreckage of both planes.

Hexogen, when mixed with nitroglycerin, forms a plastic explosive similar to C4 and has been used by Chechen rebels in attacks on Russian soil in the past.

CNN Correspondent Ryan Chilcote contributed to this story

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