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Were motives of Boston bombing suspects embedded in Chechen heritage – or not?

The suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing were immigrants from a violent region of the Caucasus, but experts say disaffection with the US, rather than radical ideology, is the more likely motive.

By Staff writer / April 19, 2013

This photo shows the two Boston bombing suspects together walking through the crowd in Boston on Monday, before the explosions at the Boston Marathon.




Identification of the two principal suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings as two immigrant Chechen brothers who grew up in and around the heavily Muslim Caucasus region of Russia during a particularly violent period would seem to add a clarifying element to the already astounding events in Boston this week.

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Evidence that the older of the two brothers had recently expressed increasingly jihadist thinking on social media sites adds a radical Islamist element to the mix.

But a picture is emerging of two young men who were, mostly, increasingly disaffected with their adopted home. It could be they were searching to assert an identity from the religious and political elements of a rootless and violence-marked upbringing, some terrorism and Central Asia experts say.

At least one relative, an uncle living in the US, told a Boston TV station Friday that the brothers were “losers” who were angry at others who were making it in America. “Anything to do with a religion is a fraud,” the uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, told Boston’s Channel 7 News, adding that the brothers had been unable to settle down and get ahead, and were angry about that.

However the young men’s roots in a violent region can’t be dismissed, some experts say.

Chechnya has a very brutal history. You can just imagine two young Chechen boys growing up [in that violence] and then being dropped in the United States,” says Fiona Hill, an expert in Russia and its regional conflicts at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Noting how that could be “incredibly disorienting,” she adds, “And here they are in their 20s, a classic time for people to search for identity.” 

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, the older brother shown wearing a dark cap in FBI photos released Thursday, appears to have posted religious videos that included references to the liberation of the Muslim regions of Central Asia before the bombings Monday and the shoot-out in Watertown early Friday in Boston where he was fatally wounded.

His younger brother, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 19, the suspect shown wearing a white cap in FBI photos, was born in Kyrgyzstan but appears to have kept a page on a Russian social network where he identifies as Muslim and expresses interest in events in Chechnya, the predominantly Muslim Russian province where Russian authorities fought two ruthless wars in the 1990s and 2000s as separatists battled central Russian rule.

All of these elements could suggest that the Tsarnaev brothers carried out the marathon bombings as a result of some link to a foreign terrorist organization. But the more likely scenario, some experts say, is that the two immigrants were “lone wolves” perhaps inspired by a radical foreign ideology but acting more in a quest to assert an identity.


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Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

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