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Boston bombings: Understanding Tsarnaev brothers and their intended audience

Emir of the Caucasus Doku Umarov
An undated still image taken from video shows an address by Chechen rebels, led by Emir of the Caucasus Doku Umarov, center.

The real target of terrorism is not the victims of the crimes, but the audience for the crimes. This is not to marginalize the criminality of the terrorist’s acts or the tragedy of the victims. The point is that to understand the likely motivation for the Tsarnaev brothers, the suspects in the Boston bombings, we have to understand who their intended audience was.

The Tsarnaev brothers killed an 8-year-old boy, a Chinese exchange student and a 29-year-old restaurant manger and injured at least another 170 because, I think, they wanted to send a message to the North Caucasus.

The victims of the Boston bombings presumably knew little or nothing of the Islamic enclaves of Chechnya, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and Ingushetia that for the past two decades have remained semi-autonomous regions within Russia and have kept these Russian borderlands along the northern range of the Caucasus Mountains in a state of turmoil. Since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, the new norm for this region appears to be a pattern of civil wars, terrorist strikes, hostage crises, kidnappings for ransom and reprisals by the Russian Special Forces.

The brothers -- the older Tamerlan and the younger Dzhokhar -- belong to the diaspora of Chechens, a Caucasian ethnic group whose members are more likely to live in exile than to reside in their homeland.

In 1944, Stalin suspected the Chechens of collaboration with the Germans and deported them to Central Asia and Siberia. Lavrenty Beria, the most brutal of the monsters who headed up Stalin’s secret police, gave the order that any Chechens remaining in their homeland “should be liquidated on the spot.” After Stalin’s death, Chechens trickled back to their homelands.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moscow drew its line in the sand against any further secession and overpowered the Chechen independence movement. Two disastrous wars, in 1994-96 and 1999-2002, reduced Chechnya to rubble and enabled Vladimir Putin to install the current puppet regime under Ramzan Kadyrov.

Proclivity for the bizarre

Kadyrov’s proclivity for the bizarre and a record of human-rights violations has turned the Chechen capital Grozny into the Pyongyang of the Caucasus. During this time, the Chechens’ record of terrorism on Russian soil included a hostage crisis in Dagestan in 1995, a Moscow apartment bombing of 1999, the taking of hostages in Moscow’s Nord Ost Theater in 2001, the Beslan school massacre of 2004, the bombing of the Moscow Metro in 2010 and the bombing of Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport in 2011. As a result, few Russians protest the repression and lack of civil rights in Chechnya. In everyday Russian street slang, “Chechentsy,” or “the Chechens,” means criminals.

The roots of the Chechnya of the Tsarnaev brothers lie not in the real Chechnya. Theirs is an imagined Chechnya forged of refugees’ resentments and fantasies. Their lives as Chechen refugees in Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia and Dagestan near the Chechen border and as Muslim immigrants in post 9/11 America changed their aspirations from fitting in to the American dream to belonging to an invented homeland – a Pan-Caucasus Islamic state.

You can better understand this transformation by visiting the Kavkaz (Caucasus) Center website.

In the wake of defeat in two wars and the post 9/11 rise of a web-based global jihadist movement, the Chechen radicals shifted their focus from the drive toward an independent Chechen state to making of a “Caucasus Emirate” stretching across the North Caucasus from the Caspian to the Black Sea. Under Emir Doku Umarov, the “Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate” have taken credit for numerous terrorist attacks carried out in Dagestan and Chechnya over the last two years. A more militant brand of Islam, Salafi, has replaced a rather lax variety of Sunni Islam that prevailed in the region in Soviet times.

Over the past weekend, the press picked up the trail. In 2011, older brother Tamerlan’s interest in radical Islam caught the attention of Russian authorities, who requested, but did not receive, information on him from the FBI. In 2012, he returned for a six-month visit to Dagestan and visited Chechnya. After his return to the United States, he posted on his YouTube page videos of jihadists. The fact that  this past Sunday the Kavkaz (Caucasus) Center denied any connection to the Boston bombings and emphasized that it was at war with Russia, not the United States, may well be further evidence that it does not control the proliferation of terrorist cells across the Caucasus.  

Terrorist organizations do not accept every volunteer to their cause. The infamous Serbian terrorist and assassin in the 1914 killing of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Gravrilo Princip, had been rejected as “too small and weak” by several Serbian terrorist groups. He vowed “to prove that he was the equal of the others.” Tragically, he made his point.

The Tsarnaev brothers probably wanted to show someone in the North Caucasus that they were the equal of the criminals who have bombed Moscow, Dagestan and Chechnya. Point.

Message to Moscow

The Tsarnaev brothers copied their message to Moscow. Since 2007, when Putin installed Kadyrov as the president of the Chechen Republic, Moscow has invested billions of rubles in the reconstruction of Chechnya and promoted the image of the country’s pacification and return to a normal life. Grozny is the Potemkin village of Putin’s Russia, from its lavish presidential palace to its new grand boulevard named “Prospect Vladimir Putin.” The Tsarnaevs’ message to Russian audiences is that the threat of violence and instability in the North Caucasus remains.  

The Boston bombings appear to have had an early  effect on Russia. Putin’s sports minister said on Sunday that the Boston bombings sent “a grave signal” to the planners of the Sochi Winter Olympics, now six months away.  

His remarks prompted a flurry of mixed signals from Moscow with some Kremlin officials declaring that more than adequate security was already in place for the Sochi Olympics while others called for increased security measures. Approximately 200 miles from Chechnya, Sochi stands on the edge of a very dangerous neighborhood.

It remains to be seen if the Boston bombings will deter visitors from coming to the Sochi Olympics. Until now, I have dismissed the Sochi Olympics as another of Putin’s publicity stunts. While I rarely support Putin’s gimmicks, I would not want to see prospective visitors to Sochi canceling their plans and thus lending reason to the Tsarnaevs’ madness.

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Comments (21)

Loss of citizenship might have been the turning point

Tamerlan's change in direction to violence could have been simply as his father explained, or simply as 60 Minutes explained on CBS (either the result of assaulting his girlfriend, or as a result of the FBI inquiry found on his record). In both cases, his loss of U.S. citizenship at the time he wished to join the U.S. Olympic team had to hit him very hard. His younger brother eventually got citizenship no problem, and Tamerlan was, after all, a first class, New England Golden Gloves athlete. Citizenship may have been a frustrating turning point.

This report ignores the fact

This report ignores the fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of Chechens have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan against the US and the governments of those countries, and have probaly killed thousands in those countries via IED and guns. It's a fact that a segment of Chechens have a version of Islam and political destiny that encourages them to do horrendous things to civilians. The characterization of the movements as "not at war with the US" is on the bare edge of truthful as Chechens have directly attacked and killed or wounded US soldiers.

FBI, who?

This is a fine history lesson but does not follow necessarily that you can smack post-its on the foreheads of two brothers with any certainty or reasonable satisfaction since the FBI appears to have directed the 'news reels'; dramatic movie or pics and possibilities that steer the public to zero in on one scenario, the Bomb Brothers Two...The question arises again, why?

Only the FBI seems to have selected content and proof and in a nation bounded by security public and private contractors, who do you trust?

Sad day for all who honor truth and justice and try to perceive but no longer expect nor perceive in the future any positive; credible closure?

Cause of bombings

Thank you for providing the first information I have seen that seems credible, thorough (as possible at this date) and really enlightening.
I wonder how much of this other media will pick up.


It strikes me that Americans would be sympathetic to the Chechen cause, if they were better informed about it. Terrorism in the US is just counterproductive for them.

PS to Professor Hayes: I thought that the Caucasus region was largely Sufi, not Sunni--was I misinformed?

A portion of the Chechens

A portion of the Chechens were and are a significant and dangerously effective counter-US force in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, it is quite likely that they have killed and wounded US soldiers with IEDs and guns, all in the name of jihad.

So how is it that we should feel kinship with the Chechens?

Are you operating on the old cold war basis of the enemy of my enemy is my friend?

If one goes with the track record of bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and kidnapping and terrorism in Russia, they are not too cuddly a group--showing damned little concern for the general public that falls in the name of their strivings.

Don't bend over too far backwards....

How far should I bend?

I'm looking for evidence of the "hundreds, if not thousands" of Chechens fighting the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. I get nothing definitive. There are some anecdotes, but even Fox News questions claims that there are significant numbers. Jihadists in Chechnya are directing their energies at fighting the Russians.

Chechens have been victims of oppression directed from Moscow since the Stalin era. The current regime has engaged in near genocidal brutality in suppressing their rebellion. The terrorism they have carried out in Russia is a bad thing; however, I don't think it is significantly worse than what the brave lads of the IRA did in Great Britain (and we all know how cuddly they were).

An awfully long url from

An awfully long url from google books for Chechens in Iraq

Secret History of the Iraq War, by Yossef Bodansky, p 404

I can't cut and past but it talks about the Al Quaeda decision to bring in jihadists from all over the world, including Chechnya, to fight the US in Iraq.

And from the Australians


Chechen fighters travelled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and neighbouring Caucasus regions for military and explosives training, joining their cause to a worldwide jihad. Chechen militants and foreign supporters who trained at al-Qaeda-run camps in Afghanistan were among terrorist suspects swept up after the US invasion and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay or CIA ''black sites''. Some are thought to be in detention still....

....A handful of Chechens were among foreigners fighting US troops around Diyala in Iraq in 2005 and a small number of Chechen fighters has been reported in the lawless tribal belt along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, which has long been a sanctuary for al-Qaeda and the Taliban....

(end quote)

And, from the Brits:


This has led some Chechens to take the path of terror. They are held responsible for crimes that make the Boston Marathon bombing seem like child's play – most of them outside Chechnya. Among the attacks attributed to or claimed by Chechen rebels are the 1999 bombing of a Moscow shopping center, in which 64 people were killed; the 2002 siege of a theater, also in Moscow, that resulted in 120 deaths; the 2004 attack on a school in the town of Beslan, in which 380 people, nearly all of them children, were slaughtered; and just three years ago, an attack on the Moscow subway system by two female suicide bombers that killed 39.....

....Chechens decided long ago not to confine their struggle to Chechnya. Some have fought against American-backed armies in Afghanistan and Iraq. In return, foreign militants have turned up in the ranks of Chechen rebels. The US State Department has also reported that some funding for the rebels comes from sources linked to al-Qaida.

This conflict is ethnic and political, but it has a religious overlay. Chechens are Muslim, and some share the belief that the west is engaged in a global campaign against Islam. They have decided that their response should also be global. George Bush's global "war on terror" has found its corollary: a globalised campaign of terror.....

(end quote)

And from the Russians:


Let us remember how much criticism Russia faced for “genocide” in Chechnya. Chechen terrorists were glorified as heroes in Europe and in the USA, the Western countries hired lawyers for them and invited them at human rights conferences. After 9/11 there was less excitement, but Western politicians still claimed that Chechen terrorists were fighting for independence.

However, Saddam Hussein was announced international terrorist with no evidence. By the way, Saddam did not let Chechen and other terrorists to come to Iraq.

According to Russian Intelligence Service Abroad, the units of Chechen terrorists penetrate in Iraq since June 2003 through Syria. Today there are 2-3 thousand Chechen fighters in Iraq. Their command is in the so-called Staff of Iraqi Resistance located in Syria. The Staff controls the main anti-American groups in Iraq: the unit led by Abu al-Valid, the successor of killed “Black Arab” Khattab who was fighting in Chechnya, Army of Mohammed and Wahabees (radical Muslems). Iraqi guerillas from the former Iraqi Army officers look like kids in comparison with these groups being notorious for their atrocities. If Iraqis chose whom to attack, for the newly arrived fighters nationalities do not matter. There is no difference whom to cut throat: to Russian or to American. Both are enemies.

(end quote)


First of all, you do know that Pravda is largely a house organ for the Russian government, don't you? Why are you quoting them as evidence of anything?

Second, I want to know about the hundreds, nay thousands, of Chechens waging jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan. You are giving me "some," a "handful," but those don't translate into legions. While it would not surprise me to learn that Chechens are involved in Afghanistan, there is no credible proof that their numbers are very large, or that they are playing a significant role.

Third, why did you elide this part from the Guardian article you quoted?

Russia has fought this long conflict with their own kind of savagery. Russian forces have killed tens of thousands of Chechens since the 1990s, and leveled Grozny, the Chechen capital, in the 1994-95 phase of the conflict. A separatist leader, Shamil Basayev, allegedly the planner of the Beslan school massacre, was assassinated in 2004, evidently by Russian security forces. That same year, President Putin named a local ally, Ramzan Kadyrov, to run Chechnya for him.
According to many outsiders, including the US State Department, Kadyrov has become one of the world's most brutal figures, responsible for widespread torture in secret prisons and many murders. He "has been implicated personally", according to State, in the murder of the crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006.

I omitted that part because

I omitted that part because the post was long enough anyway, and I was talking about Chechens, not the Russians. The Russians have a horrible record. But their terrible record certainly doesn't excuse Chechens for their killings of civilians.

What IS your point? That Chechens are blameless, model world citizens? That Russians are evil and everyone they fight are good?

By the way, here is an article on the Chechens in Syria and their radicalization...


Vladimir Lozinski, co-founder of the Roddy Scott Foundation, which provides language and computer training to youth in the gorge, said that he has seen a drop-off in attendance by young men in the villages, many of whom he now sees growing beards and spending most of their time at the mosque.

Abu Hamza denied any connection to the Salafi mosque and maintained that he went to Syria on his own volition. Although he returned from the fighting with the thick, wiry, mustache-less beard of a hard-line Muslim, he said he doesn't consider himself a jihadist.

"People can call it what they want. I went to Syria for the children, the women, the civilians, and for God," he said.

Abu Hamza estimates that about 100 Kists and Chechens from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge are currently fighting in Syria, and he wants to be with them. Now divorced, he said he yearns to return, but a female relative that he admires pulled him from the fighting the last time, pledging that if he didn't come back to Georgia, she would go and drag him from the battle herself. He said he now knows that one of his distant relatives who survived the shootout with Georgian special forces in Lopota Gorge is now in Syria and has become an "emir," or local commander.

Abu Hamza said he considers the other members of his group "closer than brothers" and they cried when he left. One, an Azeri from Moscow, has promised to find him a job in the Russian capital if he survives.

When I asked whether he would consider fighting elsewhere, in Iraq or Afghanistan, for instance, or against the Georgian government that had apparently betrayed his kin, he said, "I'll go anywhere they are murdering innocents."

(end quotes)

(end quote)

My point

My point is merely that there are likely not hundreds, if not thousands, of Chechens fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Go ahead and paint them as the focus of all evil in the world, if you like. I have no use for ethnic profiling.

No worse than the IRA?

Read about when they took the elementary school in Beslan.

By the way, I don't regard the IRA as "brave lads". But if you want to play who was worse, the IRA was responsible for 600-700 non-combatants (the rest of the 1800 dead were either IRA or Brits). The majority of killings were one by one.

380 were dead at Beslan at the hands of Chechens.. Almost 300 were killed in a series of blasts in Russian apartment blocks. More killed in bombings at airports, police stations, concerts, etcRead the depressing list of suicide bombings in the Chechen conflict at:

And I don't regard the Russians as heroes.

target audience

If the Boston Marathon Bombers wanted to impress their buddies in the Caucasus area with their toughness, they would have attacked Russians in Russia where their sucess would have been more obvious to their target audience. They also wouldn't have chosen such a soft target, racers wearing only shorts, t-shirts and sneakers, and watched by families with little kids.
The bombers were Islamic extremists who attacked the marathon because they believed Americans are infidels. They didn't care who their audience was. All that mattered was maiming and killing as many infidels as possible.

And you know this because . . .

. . .all Muslims are evil in your world?

How much do you want to bet that these two were just a couple of losers who adopted the jargon of Islam as an excuse for their own post-adolescent frustrations? That they attacked the marathon because they believed it would be an easy target? That they were their own intended audience?

These two have more in common with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold than with Osama bin Laden.

Don't be

Don't be naiive.

Radicalization is occurring throughout the Islamic world. The famously secular countries of Egypt, Iraq and Libya are more fundamentalist than they ever were. Most Islamic countries are likewise. Government and civil society has failed in these areas to safeguard the health, rights and safety of the people. It's occurring in Chechnya,as it is elsewhere. Obviously if people were living happy, satisfied lives with fulfilling, meaningful work in a world of justice and peace, they would not be turning to radical ideas. But they don't, so they are.

That is exactly where the terrorists come from--the unhappy, the dissatisfied, the "losers" in your words. They want meaning beyond the depressing realityy of their lives.

Being Muslim doesn't make you evil.

Being a Muslim that believes it is their right and perhaps duty to take your life in their purposes IS evil. And there is a very visible (but not large) segment of that population that considers your death or injury a good thing and furthers the destruction of the western world.


Are you saying that the two bombers in Boston are part of a global jihadist movement, with nothing more to go on than professions of Islam? Wow--there must be one under every bed. Rep. Bachmann was right: The black helicopters are coming, and they're full of Muslims!

Being a person of any faith "that believes it is their right and perhaps duty to take your life in their purposes" is evil, but it's no excuse for others to spin fantasies about automatic membership in a conspiracy.


Hmmmm, weren't the mujahadin our buddies in Afghanistan when they were kicking Russia's butt?

How did that turn out when the Russians departed?

Didn't they become our dear allies? I don't remember....

It's all that cold war thinking...

Cold war thinking?

It's not a relic of cold war thinking to understand that the Russians have been brutal in their suppression of Chechnya. Sure, there's a Pizza Hut in Moscow, but that doesn't mean they are turned into good ol' boys.

It's foolish to let fears of Islamist terror (and sniffy attitudes about "cold war thinking") cloud our understanding of the current situation. Chechnya is not Afghanistan. The conflict there is about ethnicity, not religion. Chechen rebels are not loading up black helicopters to come over and impose Shariah law in Kandiyohi County. Sometimes, a local conflict is just a local conflict. Two crazy outliers shouldn't be allowed to change that.

Man, you just don't do

Man, you just don't do "subtlety", do you?

My entire point-- followers of radical Islam in Chechnya have killed MANY innocent people in horrific ways.

That doesn't excuse the Russian crimes. And the fact that radical Islamic Chechens did unarguably bad things doesn't make all Muslims or all Chechen or all Chechen Muslims bad.

It should make you think at least twice about radicalized Islamic Chechens and their tactics and impact, though.

Got that?

I gotta go, I got a black helicopter to catch...

"Terrorism" and its intended taregts

Professor Hayes makes some good points with this informative article. It's good to know a little more about the Chechnyan situation. It's not something I've spent more than maybe 30 seconds thinking about for the last five years. It may be a small world but Chechnya is still not far enough away from the USA for me. I hadn't even heard about the "Sochi Olympics." Maybe next year.

One doesn't have to sympathize with the alleged perpetrators to try to understand their motivations through their own eyes. It's helpful to do so, I think, if only to better understand our own feelings about outrages and crimes committed against "us" even when they happen to others and they are not the "intended audience." Until 9-11, "terrorism" was just another word in the English language. Since then this word has acquired menacing emotional connotations that magnifies those emotions whether they were the "intended audience" or not.

The comparison with Prinzip is apt. He was a lone wolf who had little concern about the consequence of his own actions. One of the lessons of that dastardly act of murder ought to be for us that we all need not lose our grip on our emotions, our reasoning, or our sense of decency, because of them. We say Prinzip's assassination "ignited" world war I which is true in a way. But we all have free will and the fact is, people were willing to let Prinzip's murder serve as their excuse or justification for allowing events to lead to spiral to a senseless slaughter of millions. The armies of France, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, England and eventually America, all marched off in patriotic and nationalistic pride showered in garlands of flowers from the adoring populations who demanded their leaders take whatever actions suited their subjective patriotic and nationalistic fervor. Whether it is to vindicate the honor of the fatherland, revenge the wrongs of the last war, make the world safe for democracy, "national self-determination, or preserving our freedoms, no one ever lacks sufficient excuses for their own conduct even if involves wishing or inflicting pain and death on others.

Questions without answers, who knows?

Interesting piece out of The Moscow Times this morning 4/23/13 by Ivan Nechaporenka..."For Tsarnaev Brothers, Family Model Broke Down."

Cultural divides happen and deviant degrees of small truths rise like aberrations that may enlighten to some degree...and possibly be worth considering?

Or, jump over to Pepe Escobar at "Asia Times on-line" and although for you, 'conspiracy' may reek from his multiple choice of questions, sans answers, on this whole murky affair that doesn't seem to add up...try it, you may not like it?

Yes indeed, being overtly informed or misinformed run a close tie here, but...Pepe, the "Roving Reporter" with the saw tooth mind and a poet/dramatist wordsmith all rolled into one, has been so close to speaking truths far ahead of other world news sites it amazes me...take it with a grain of salt or a scoop of cinnamon.

One can never be too informed...then again?