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Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Chechen roommates suspects in airline bombings

The Associated Press

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MOSCOW — They lived in the same apartment in Chechnya, worked in the same market and may have died within moments of each other on separate airliners that crashed in Russia last week.

New details emerged yesterday about the two Chechen women who are the focus of suspicion that the planes were blown up by terrorists, killing all 90 people aboard. Russian officials said traces of the highly explosive hexogen were found in the wreckage.

How the explosive may have been brought on board the planes that took off from Moscow is still unclear, and investigators were scraping for clues about Amanta Nagayeva and S. Dzhebirkhanova, two Chechen women whose names were listed on tickets for the flights.

Nagayeva, 30, and 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 been identified. Officials were considering two scenarios: Either Nagayeva and Dzhebirkhanova were indeed suicide bombers, or their passports were used by other women.

Nagayeva and Dzhebirkhanova, who shared an apartment in Grozny, Chechnya's war-shattered capital, were seen Aug. 22 leaving by bus from the town of Khasavyurt in the neighboring province of Dagestan, the Izvestia 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.

They were accompanied by two apartment mates and co-workers — Rosa Nagayeva, Amanta's sister, and Mariyam Taburova, the newspaper said. None, apparently, have been seen since.

Nagayeva was single, and Dzhebirkhanova had been divorced

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

Several suicide bombings in recent years have been blamed on Chechen women who lost husbands or brothers in the war and chaos that have plagued the southern republic for most of the past decade.

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.

Nagayeva's mother said her daughter had never flown on an airplane.

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