Don't tie Boston bombing suspects to Chechnya, UF experts say
Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 4:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 11:06 p.m.
Americans should not jump to conclusions over the fact that the two young men suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings are of Chechen origins, say two University of Florida experts on Russia and Chechnya.
Authorities have reported that the suspects, brothers Dzhokar A. Tsarnaev, 19, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, were originally from a region near Chechnya and moved to Kazakhstan before moving to the U.S. with their families several years ago. The older brother was killed and police captured the younger brother Friday.
"It is really important not to connect ethnic origin and political affiliation," sad Paul D'Anieri, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and an authority on international and domestic politics of post-Soviet Russia. "Even if there is a connection, the nature of that could be direct or indirect."
Just as likely is that the explosions that killed three and injured more than 180 were committed by alienated, lonely young men who happened to be from Chechnya, and not an act of organized terrorism, D'Anieri said.
"If this was meant to send a message, why was there no announcement? Political terrorism is meant to send a message," D'Anieri said. "If you don't tell anyone, it's kind of pointless."
D'Anieri said he hopes authorities can capture Dzhokar Tsarnaev alive so they can interrogate him and find out what their motives really were.
"The facts seem to show the hallmarks of a couple of kids who looked on the Internet for the simplest instructions for making a bomb," he said.
Russians have the same questions, said D'Anieri, who has been following news broadcasts from Russia, where the Chechnyan connection resonates more deeply.
"Russians are more familiar with the subject of the connection between Chechnya and terrorism," he said. D'Anieri has been following the conflict in Chechnya and Chechen-sponsored terrorism since the 1990s and said the Boston attack doesn't bear the hallmarks of a huge conspiracy.
"Chechen terrorism is targeted, extremely well planned and organized military operations," he said.
Chechnya pressed for its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, D'Anieri said.
D'Anieri said that one tactic Russian forces have used is to depopulate villages seen as sympathetic to the Chechen cause.
"To be a young Chechen man is very difficult," he said.
Chechnya has fought Russian and Soviet control for decades, D'Anieri said. During World War II, Joseph Stalin deported huge numbers of Chechens out of Chechnya. People were put on trains and hauled out to the middle of nowhere, he said.
After the collapse of the USSR, he said, Chechnya tried to become independent again and became very militarized. At that point, D'Anieri said, it also became the place to go for militants looking to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.
The militarization happened during two wars — the first from 1994-96 and the second starting around 1999, said Bryon Moraski, associate professor of political science who has studied regional politics in Russia, particularly Chechnya's relationship with Moscow.
It was between those wars that Chechnya saw an infiltration of foreign militants and drug traffickers, Moraski said.
In 1999, two well-orchestrated apartment building bombings occurred that were never conclusively linked to Chechen terrorists.
In 2003, Chechens held a group of people hostage in a Moscow theater, and in 2004 militants invaded a school in Beslan, Russia.
But Moscow has cracked down on insurgents, especially after pro-Russian Ramzan Kadyrov became president of Chechnya in 2007.
"The battle is with the government of Kadyrov," Moraski said. "He has ruled very ruthlessly since he's been in office in 2007. He's been associated with human rights abuses and death squads there."
Moraski said it is hard to imagine any organized connection between Chechen insurgents of today and the explosions in Boston.
"The insurgency in Chechnya tends to be disparate and disorganized because of the strong-hand tactics of the current president," he said.
Kadyrov condemned the bombings on his Instagram account, saying that any attempts to make a connection between the Tsarnaev brothers and Chechnya was in vain.
"They grew up in the United States, their attitudes and beliefs were formed there. It is necessary to seek the roots of evil in America," he said, according to a translation on Google posted by Business Insider.
The conflicts of the last 20 years have caused widespread migration from Chechnya, Moraski said. It isn't unusual for Chechens to live outside Russia, especially young men the same age as the younger Tsarnaev brother.
The news reminds Moraski of the three Chechen teens who fought off Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in a shooting and bombing rampage in Oslo, Norway, in 2011. The Chechen youths threw rocks at him until one was shot dead and the survivors retreated to save their own lives.
"The Chechens were heroes of that event, to the extent that they could be," Moraski said. "They are the antithesis of what we're seeing ... the impressions that could come from this from Boston and a counter to the negative stereotypes."