The Head-Chopping Nanny From Hell Becomes a Political Symbol in Moscow

The murderer had a long record of mental illness, but now she’s being held up by Russian nationalists as an example of the threat posed by all immigrants.

03.02.16 10:45 PM ET

MOSCOW — People coming out of the subway at the October Fields station on the outskirts of Moscow saw a horrifying scene on Monday. A tall woman in a black hijab was holding up a small human head by its hair, yelling, “Allahu Akbar!” and threatening to blow herself up.

Some witnesses, understandably, panicked. In the last two decades Russia has suffered from dozens of terrorist attacks that have taken the lives of hundreds of people. Two female suicide bombers killed 40 people and injured more than 100 in separate bombings on the Moscow subway in 2010. But this one had it’s own particularly gruesome aspects.

The woman in black appeared completely demented, but it took police a surprisingly long time, about one hour, to detain her.  She turned out to be a 38-year-old babysitter named Gulchekhra Bobokulova. She came to Moscow from Uzbekistan and until recently worked without a license as a nanny for a Moscow family with two children.

The woman admitted that the head in her hands belonged to a 4-year-old girl she had been babysitting. Earlier that day, the woman waited for the girl’s parents to leave the house along with their older child, then she strangled the little girl, beheaded her and set the apartment on fire. The child’s headless body was found in the burned apartment the same day.

The Russian investigating committee suspected an Islamic State connection, or inspiration, behind the crime; while nationalist activists and politicians immediately embraced the horrific incident as a reason to oust all illegal immigrants from Russia.

The  Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) even created a stylized logo: a circle with a line through it over a woman in a black veil with a severed head in her hand. The message: “Stop illegal immigration!”

The KPRF’s website demanded authorities address the migration issue because “some interactions between Russians and immigrants have lethal results.”

On Wednesday, the court asked Bobokulova why she had committed such a gruesome crime. “Allah ordered me,” she said.  She was asked what, precisely, Allah ordered her to do. “To kill,” she said.

The deputy head of the parliamentary Committee on Information Policy, Vadim Denging, reflected the emotions in the street. “I am against advertising such an inhuman crime,” he told The Daily Beast. “Let it be called censorship. I am a father of two children. The story turned everything inside me upside down.”

“For inhuman criminals like this woman I would like us to have the death penalty,” Dengin said.

Dozens of people, including Russia far-right activists, brought bouquets and toys to the entrance of the subway on Tuesday, the spot where police discovered the victim’s head.

A co-founder of the nationalist movement called “Russians,” Dmitry Demushkin, showed up with flowers, too.

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For years, Russian nationalists demanded that President Vladimir Putin stop allowing foreigners to work in Russia.

Until recently, Russia had more than 10 million immigrant workers, including more than one million illegals. But in 2013 the Kremlin ordered a major crackdown. Police raided markets and detained dozens of immigrants working in Moscow without legal permits.

As the economic crisis hit, many Central Asian immigrants, who cleaned Moscow’s streets or worked in private gardens, packed and went back home—there was too much pressure and no financial interest any longer, they said.

In Moscow, Uzbek workers reportedly lost their jobs as a direct result of Monday’s nauseating murder.  The KPRF claimed that criminal records showed immigrants commit 20 percent of the crime in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Uzbek police questioned Bobokulova’s family in her hometown of Samarkand. Apparently, everything was much simpler there: Bobokulova has suffered from schizophrenia since she was a young girl herself.

The popular MK newspaper published an interview with a district policeman describing the woman’s mental illness, which had prevented her from getting a job in Uzbekistan.

“The Communist Party should stop anti-immigrant campaigns and images connected to this episode, as it has nothing to do with anything but insane violence,” Dengin told The Daily Beast.