Did Brothers' Chechen Origins Play a Role?

At this point, any connection is hazy at best

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 19, 2013 11:46 AM CDT

(Newser) – Reports that the two brothers accused in the Boston Marathon bombings are Chechens—a heavily Muslim ethnic group that hails from the North Caucasus region—have wire services scrambling to provide context to Chechnya's long and violent fight for independence from Russia. One primer in wide circulation today comes from the Council on Foreign Relations. While Russia captured the Chechen capital in 2000 and theoretically reasserted control over the republic, sporadic violence from various insurgent groups has continued since, it states. One Chechen militant, Doku Umarov, claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on Moscow's subway in 2010. What's more, "experts say there are several ties between the al-Qaeda network and Chechen groups," says the CFR primer. And all of this tells us what exactly?

  • "Not very much," writes Hayes Brown at ThinkProgress. "An ethnicity does not indicate any sort of defined motive or ties to any possible group or groups," and "it is difficult to discern what—if any—ties or sympathies the two brothers have to Chechen terrorist groups." Further, Brown points out that Chechen groups have historically set their sights on Russia, not the US. (The brothers' alleged social media accounts suggest they were interested in Chechen issues—and the elder reportedly posted a video from an extremist linked to al-Qaeda, according to Mother Jones.)
  • Quartz zeroes in on a statement Chechnya President Ramzan Kadyrov posted today via Instagram. Quartz translates it from Russian; the key statement: "Any attempts to link Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs, if indeed they are guilty, are futile. They grew up in the USA, their viewpoints and beliefs were formed there. You must look for the roots of [their] evil in America." (Quartz, however, notes there's some disagreement about the last sentence; more on that here.)
  • In addition to the CFR piece, Reuters previously published a backgrounder on insurgents in the Caucasus region, and Politico notes that President Obama has avoided the issue of Chechnya in deference to Russia, much like his predecessors.

This undated photo provided by the vkontakte website shows Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.   (AP Photo/vk.com)
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