Chechen fighters fear backlash after Boston terror

Fighters fear terror attacks could unite Russia, US against them; some Chechen militants do not espouse jihad against US.

April 21, 2013 02:22
3 minute read.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suspect in Boston bombing.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev 370. (photo credit: VK profile)


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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 policy.

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 that the trend toward Salafist Islam has been gaining in Chechnya.

“These 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.

The fact 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 Salafi propaganda.

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 radical ideas.

“Global Islamism provides you with a clear identity, purpose and meaning of life,” Teper said.

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