During Russia's second assault on Chechnya, most of the little republic's first wave of independence-seeking leaders, who had espoused secular nationalism, were either killed or defected to the Russian side. Militant Islamists, seeking to create a Caucasus-wide "caliphate," took over the movement and found tactical inspiration, as well as material support, from Middle Eastern Islamist terror networks like Al Qaeda. The Islamist insurrection has since spread to neighboring republics, especially Ingushetia and Dagestan.
Chechen-led terrorists have struck repeatedly in the Russian heartland, notably a mass hostage-taking at a downtown Moscow theater in 2002 that killed 130 people and a horrific school siege in Beslan, North Ossetia, that killed 330 people, half of them children. A double suicide bombing by "black widow" terrorists – wives of rebels killed by Russian security forces – left 40 people dead in a 2010 Moscow metro attack and another suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport the next year left 35 people dead.