What we know about Gyulchekhra Bobokulova The nanny who beheaded a four-year-old girl and blamed Putin
On March 3, a video was published online showing Gyulchekhra Bobokulova explaining that she beheaded a four-year-old girl in retaliation for Russia's military campaign in Syria. Police detained the Uzbekistan native on the morning of February 29 outside a Moscow metro station. Bobokulova was carrying a child's severed head, screaming that she was a terrorist, and threatening to blow herself up. After her arrest, she confessed to killing the girl. Bobokulova insists that her crime has a religious dimension. She says she committed the murder because “Allah commanded it.” Russia's Investigative Committee urges the public not to “sensationalize” Bobokulova's statements, pointing out that she has a long history of schizophrenia. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin's official spokesman, has asked people to treat her claims with caution. Meduza reviews what we know about Gyulchekhra Bobokulova and the possible motives for her crime.
Gyulchekhra Bobokulova, age 38, was born in the Samarkand region of Uzbekistan. She's from a large family that includes five sisters, and she didn't get past the tenth grade. She married early, and had three sons with her first husband. Her oldest boy, now 19 years old, was arrested in Uzbekistan on March 2 and taken to an undisclosed location. The middle child is now 18. He was raised by childless relatives, who were apparently desperate for a son of their own. The third boy is now 16.
Citing an anonymous source, the news agency Interfax says police in Uzbekistan informed their colleagues in Moscow that Bobokulova was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1999. According to her father, she “started hearing voices and acting aggressively” in 2002, when she spent nearly two weeks under observation at a mental health clinic in Samarkand. The doctors opened a file and released her. Two weeks later, she started hearing voices again, her father says. She reportedly became terrified and said she was “seeing blood.” Another psychiatric hospital prescribed pills, and then “everything was fine.”
Bobokulova's husband left her when she was hospitalized. He took their oldest son with him. The youngest stayed with Bobokulova and her parents. In order to provide for the boy, she left for Russia, to find work. Once in Moscow, Bobokulova found a job at a vegetable warehouse, handling onions, according to the website Gazeta.ru. She sent part of her wages back home to Uzbekistan. Later, she worked at a market. In 2008, she met her second husband, Sukhrob Kosimov—another Samarkand native. He worked in construction. The two got married back in Uzbekistan and lived together for about two years. When Bobokulova learned he was cheating on her, the marriage collapsed.
According to the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, Bobokulova got a job as a nanny for the Meshcheryakovs in Moscow in 2013. She was hired to keep the home in order and look after the family's infant girl. Before this, she worked as a nanny for another family in the city (on whose recommendation she got the job with the Meshcheryakovs). The family's friends describe Bobokulova as a “kind, modest, and sensible woman.” The family called her Gulya. She lived with them in their apartment, and last summer she even accompanied them on a trip to Orlov.
The news program Vesti has confirmed that Bobokulova was working in Russia illegally, without a work permit from the Federal Migration Service. Her residence in Russia was legal, however, and she was formally registered as a migrant living in Moscow.
Friends of the Meshcheryakovs told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that Bobokulova began wearing Muslim clothing about a year ago, covering her whole body. She also began praying in her room. Neighbors confirm that she started wearing “unusual clothes” about a year and a half ago. The family's friends say Bobokulova was spotted several times reading websites with texts written in Arabic.
A source in the police department told the news agency RIA Novosti that Bobokulova recently moved in with a man from from Tajikistan who “indoctrinated her with ideas of Islamic extremism.” In early 2016, she returned home to Uzbekistan to renew her passport. While there, she reportedly showed off a hijab that she said was a gift from her new friend.
In a video published on March 3 (filmed by an unknown author, apparently inside a police station), Bobokulova says she wanted to move to Syria, to live in a “Muslim city,” where women dress appropriately (though she couldn't name a particular city). She says she didn't have enough money to go. She also says she reads the Koran constantly, praying five times a day. When asked about her own children, she says, “I don't need them. They don't read the Koran, and they don't pray.”
Bobokulova claims to have started planning the murder about a month ago. “I watch. There are bombs there [in Syria] [...] I got revenge for the blood that's been spilled ... Putin is bombing Muslims with planes, and nobody says anything. They want to live, too,” she says in the leaked video, adding that there are children among the dead in Syria. (ISIL recruiters often target migrants from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, living in Moscow. You can read more about the Islamic State's activities in Russia here.)
Responding to the footage of Bobokulova's confession, Vladimir Markin, the spokesperson for Russia's Federal Investigative Committee, published an open letter calling on the public not to “sensationalize” her statements, pointing out that she has a long history of schizophrenia. “People commit such crimes at moments when the disease's symptoms are extremely acute, and it's possible to hear the most incredible and delusional explanations of their motives. In such cases, some people claim to be Napoleon, others say they're Gandhi, and the list just goes on. If anyone should be thinking seriously about her statements right now, I believe it's the mental health professionals,” Markin argued.
On the morning of February 29, 2016, according to police investigators, Bobokulova waited for the Meshcheryakovs to leave their home with their eldest son. Around 9:40 a.m., she killed the family's four-year-old girl by stabbing her in the neck. She then cut off the child's head and placed it in a plastic bag, which she then put in a backpack. Next, Bobokulova changed her clothes, dressing in black Muslim attire. Before leaving, she poured fuel throughout the apartment and set it ablaze. Exiting onto the street, she hailed a cab and got a ride to the Oktyabrskoe Pole metro station. By 10 a.m., firefighters had extinguished the flames back at the Meshcheryakovs' apartment, where they discovered the body of a girl without a head.
Around 11 a.m., Bobokulova appeared outside Oktyabrskoe Pole, carrying the bloody head. She held it aloft, by the hair, screaming, “Allah Akbar!” and “I hate democracy. I'm a terrorist! I am your death! So many mothers—so many of us have you destroyed! Look over here, I'm a suicide bomber!” According to a senior police spokesperson, responding officers convinced her to lie on the ground. After 20 minutes, Bobokulova became cold and stood up again. When this happened, an officer tackled her and took her into custody.
On March 2, a Moscow court formalized Bobokulova's arrest, scheduling her hearing two months from now, on April 29. Before she was arraigned, journalists managed to ask a few brief questions. When asked why she murdered the girl, she said “Allah commanded it.” In court, a state investigator warned that Bobokulova would be a flight risk, if released on bail, also raising the fear that she might collude with the people who possibly incited her to kill. Investigators suspect Bobokulova's roommate (the man who reportedly gifted her a hijab) may have goaded her into murdering the girl. A source told the news agency Interfax that police found in Bobokulova's phone the numbers of two men known to have ties to extremist groups.
On Friday, March 4, Bobokulova was formally charged with three separate crimes: murder, arson, and knowingly making false claims about an act of terrorism.