What the Boston Marathon-Chechnya Connection Might Mean

The two suspects law enforcement officials named last night in connection to the Boston marathon bombings might come from Chechnya. The police have confronted Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; Tamerlan reportedly died in a shootout, while the police continue to pursue Dzhokhar. Is their connection to Chechnya relevant?

There’s a lot that we don’t know about these two suspects, and we probably won’t know for a while. Early reports suggest that the younger one, Dzhokhar, was either born in Kyrgyzstan or possibly moved there (or to Kazakhstan) at a young age. On his Vk page (the Russian-language equivalent of Facebook), Dzhokhar says he went to school in Makhachkala, the capital of neighboring Dagestan.

There are also reports suggesting one or both spent some of their childhoods in Turkey. Reports also suggest that they came to the United States at an early age – 9 and 16. It is important to note how little we know about these two men, and to avoid speculation. By way of background, the war in Chechnya might provide some clues as to why these two possibly decided to plant those bombs.

The first Chechen War, from 1994-1996 was a nationalist war of separation. Still, would be Islamist radicals tried to influence the outcome. Russian authorities arrested Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command, when he tried to enter Chechnya in 1996.

The second Chechen War, from 1999-2000, was explicitly more Islamist because of foreign fighter infiltration, including from al Qaeda. Many reports of Islamist Chechen terrorists date back to this period. A few hundred Chechens traveled to Afghanistan to join forces with the Taliban. Russian President Vladimir Putin was integral to this second Chechen War: he used it to justify a “global war on Islamic terrorism” in 1999, and is considered responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed people at Katyr Yurt.

Chechen-linked groups cite these massive Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya as a justification for terrorism. But we have no way of knowing if the two suspects in Boston have anything to do with those yet. While we await for more information from the authorities it’s best to keep a cautious, skeptical, open mind.