Dzhokhar Tsarnaev 370.
(photo credit: VK profile)
The religious and ethnic ties of the Boston Marathon bombers have been in the
spotlight after their activity on social media revealed evidence of their
connection with radical Islam.
Mother Jones first broke the story of
video postings on YouTube by the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, which reflect
al-Qaida-linked, extremist religious ideology.
The Twitter feed
associated with Dzhokhar, @J–tsar, has a comment stating: “Brothers at the
mosque either think I’m a convert or that I’m from Algeria or Syria, just the
other day a guy asked me how I came to Islam.”
So the questions appear to
be whether it is the suspects’ possible jihadist ideology or their Chechen
identity that is important, and what this means for US and Russian
The most important factor, according to experts, is the jihadist
angle, as there are other Chechen Islamists who do not espouse jihad against the
US, but focus instead on their battle with Russia.
Chechens, a mostly
Muslim ethnic group in the North Caucasus, have a degree of autonomy from
Moscow, having fought a separatist military campaign for independence following
the fall of the Soviet Union.
According to the website of the Council of
Foreign Relations, there are ties between al-Qaida and some Chechen groups. One
Chechen leader known as Khattab is said to have met with Osama Bin Laden during
the 1979-89 fighting against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. In addition,
Chechen fighters battled against the United States alongside al-Qaida and
Taliban forces in Afghanistan, according to the website.
Daniel Course, a
doctoral candidate at Bar-Ilan University and an expert on Russian foreign and
security policy, told the The Jerusalem Post
that there was no connection to
Russia, except for the fact that Tamerlan Tsarnaev reportedly spent six months
there in the past year.
“If he stayed in Russia’s Caucasus it would be
enough time to train in one of the radicals’ training camps. But it is all just
speculation,” Course said.
He added that the major websites and blogs of
the radical underground in the North Caucasus region “generally express
disapproval over the [Boston] bombings.”
He added, however, that Islamist
groups in the region had a complex view of America.
On the one hand they
see the US as hostile toward Islam, while on the other they enjoy the tensions
between Russia, their enemy, and the US. Thus, concludes Course, “they are
unsure on how to digest this event.”
Another point, he added, is that the
attack could unite Russia and the US against Chechen fighters – and this is
something they do not want.
Yuri Teper, a doctoral candidate at Bar-Ilan
and an expert on nationalism and politics in modern Russia, told the Post
the trend toward Salafist Islam has been gaining in Chechnya.
brothers are as American as the terrorist who killed the Jewish family in France
was French. They might not even be a part of any organized group, but
individuals inspired by radical Islamist rhetoric,” said Teper.
that they have a Chechen background makes them more prone to Islamism, he said,
because of the war their family has gone through. The social media, he added,
provided the brothers with a “virtual Islamist community” that was focused on
He also said that the brothers were double immigrants,
moving twice – first from Chechnya to Kirgizstan, and then to the US, and that
they were probably searching for their identity and were thus prone to Islamist
“Global Islamism provides you with a clear identity,
purpose and meaning of life,” Teper said.