- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

MOSCOW (AP) — A probe into near-simultaneous crashes of two Russian passenger planes last week is focused on two Chechen women who investigators believe could have set off explosives on board.

In Chechnya, Moscow’s choice to lead the warring republic easily won a presidential election held in the shadow of the attacks, election officials said yesterday. The opposition charged that voting was tainted by fraud.

Alu Alkhanov, the region’s top police official, replaces Kremlin-backed President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in a bomb attack in May.

Russian Transportation Minister Igor Levitin, citing a “black box” recording from one of two planes that crashed minutes apart Aug. 24, said there was no evidence of a hijacking attempt or any other disturbance before explosions aboard the jetliners. All 90 persons aboard the aircraft were killed.

Investigators were scraping for clues about Amanta Nagayeva and S. Dzhebirkhanova, two Chechen women whose names were listed on tickets for the flights.

Miss Nagayeva, 30, and Mrs. Dzhebirkhanova, 37, aroused accident investigators’ suspicions because they purchased tickets at the last minute — and because they were the only victims about whom no relatives inquired after news of the crashes.

At the same time, the women’s bodies have not yet been identified. Officials were considering two scenarios: Either Miss Nagayeva and Mrs. Dzhebirkhanova were indeed suicide bombers, or their passports were used by other women, the newspaper Izvestia reported, citing Chechen law-enforcement officials.

Miss Nagayeva and Mrs. Dzhebirkhanova, who lived in an apartment in Grozny, Chechnya’s war-shattered capital, were seen on Aug. 22 leaving by bus from the town of Khasavyurt in the neighboring province of Dagestan, the newspaper said. They were believed to be en route to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, where they often bought clothes and other commodities to sell at the Grozny market.

The women’s destination on the bus was not known. They were accompanied by two apartment mates and co-workers — Rosa Nagayeva, Amanta’s sister, and Mariyam Taburova, the newspaper said.

Miss Nagayeva was single, and Mrs. Dzhebirkhanova had been divorced. Miss Nagayeva’s brother disappeared three years ago in Chechnya; the family believes he was abducted by Russian forces. A brother of Mrs. Dzhebirkhanova, who had been an Islamic court judge under Chechen separatist President Aslan Maskhadov, was killed in 1998.

An unidentified Chechen Interior Ministry official was quoted as telling Izvestia that both women were “clean” of demonstrable rebel ties. Relatives of both said they were unaware the women were engaged in any activity connected to rebels or terrorists, Izvestia reported. Miss Nagayeva’s mother said her daughter had never flown on an airplane.

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