Friday, April 19, 2013

Did the Tsarnaev Brothers Have Links to Chechen Militants?

By Valery Dzutsev

Based upon what has been learned about the personal profiles of the Boston terror attack suspects, the Tsarnaev brothers (see, little suggests that they were linked to the insurgency movement in the North Caucasus or another jihadi movement. At the same time there are unclear indications that the suspects behaved in an unusually aggressive way prior to the attack in Boston ( The younger brother, Jokhar’s entries on the micro-blogging site Twitter also did not indicate anything especially suspicious, although some of his tweets may sound enigmatic or even ominous if read with prior knowledge of the author’s possible involvement in the Boston bombing (

On February 3, 2012, the leader of the Caucasus Emirate Doku Umarov announced a moratorium on attacks on civilians in Russia (see EDM, February 9, 2012). Since then the moratorium has not been lifted. Umarov’s reasoning for the halt on attacks against civilians in Russia sounded unusually realpolitik as he said that Russian citizens were engaging in protest acts against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government and the Emirate did not want to stand in their way. He referred to the process of the struggle of Russian civil society with the Kremlin as a “Chekist regime, of which they are the hostages.” Doku Umarov’s predecessors, Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev, followed an analogous strategy ( If the moratorium on targeting civilians has not been lifted by the Caucasus Emirate leadership, then it would be highly implausible that North Caucasian militants who have avoided attacking Russian civilians would instead choose to attack civilians in the United States.

The Tsarnaev brothers spent only a limited time in Chechnya. Apparently, they briefly resided in the republic just before the start of the second Russian-Chechen war, which began in September 1999. It is plausible that the brothers may still have been exposed to some conflict-related trauma resulting from the war, which uprooted hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war-torn rebel republic.  The most plausible explanation for the April 15 Boston Marathon attack, given the information publicly available currently, is that some personal events triggered a violent response from the Tsarnaev brothers. However, many more Chechen refugees live in European countries, than in the US. Many of them have also suffered psychological trauma, but there have not been attacks involving Chechens like this in Europe before.

Russian security services have ethnic Chechens as well as other ethnic groups at their disposal to perform “dirty jobs.”  In 2009, ethnic Chechens that were in all likelihood helped by the Russian government carried out a killing of a defector from Chechnya, Umar Israilov in Austria ( On April 16, 2013, Russian president Putin offered assistance with the investigation in the Boston attack a full three days before word was revealed to the Western media about the reported involvement of the two Chechen immigrants ( Putin’s proposal may suggest it was a courtesy, but it also might indicate some prior knowledge about the attack. So potentially one could conspiratorially theorize that the Russian security services may have planned the attack in Boston in such a way as to point to “Chechen terrorists”. However, even this elaborate version has little, if any, supporting evidence, given the fact that the Tsarnaev brothers moved to the US when they were extremely young and hardly could have been recruited by the Russian security services.

As we review what we know of the evidence of the attack and then weigh the possible ties between the Tsarnaev brothers and Chechen militants in the North Caucasus, the fact that North Caucasian terrorist number one in the eyes of the Washington and Moscow—Doku Umarov, the head of the Caucasus Emirate—has declared a ceasefire on civilian targets inside Russia, diminishes the possibility that the Tsarnaev brothers could have been part of an elaborate plan by Chechen terrorists to attack US civilians.  Chechens have been fighting Russians for over 200 hundred years and it makes more sense to limit their targets to Russia proper than expand their activities to the United States.

Tsarnaev Brothers’ Overt Links to Jihadism Remain Shaky

By Mairbek Vatchagaev

In the aftermath of the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15, United States authorities and law enforcement have been scrambling to identify and capture the perpetrators. On Friday, April 19, media reports revealed that ethnic Chechen brothers Tamerlan (26) and Jokhar Tsarnaev (19) were suspected of carrying out the attacks earlier in the week (for a preliminary biographical sketch of the brothers, see The brothers were apparently caught in a shootout with police in a suburb outside Boston on Friday morning. Tamerlan died in the armed exchange, while Jokhar has remained at large as of the publication of this article. As more information (much of it contradictory or incorrect) is coming to light about the Tsarnaev brothers and their possible motivation behind the Boston marathon bombings, some experts have alleged that the two young Chechens were tied to extremist jihadi groups.

Were Tamerlan and Jokhar Tsarnaev radical adherents of jihadism? Judging by the information gleaned from open sources, the answer is most probably not. Possibly, the United States security services and the police have special information that cannot be disclosed yet, but at this point nothing points to the Tsarnaev brothers’ jihadi background.

First, their photographs, which have been circulating in the media and on the Internet, point to their integration into the society where they lived ( The brothers’ outward appearance does not provide much grounds for considering them devotees to any kind of extremist religious movements. Moreover, according to the testimony of an ethnic Chechen from Boston who knew them, they never appeared in the mosque ( It is unlikely that the suspects could hide their political and religious preferences from everyone, including their family, the Chechen diaspora and all those who had contacts with them since 2003.

Further, some experts have seized on the information that the brothers watched Islamist videos on YouTube ( But a fuller look at the brothers’ publicly accessible YouTube view history hardly prejudges their alleged adherence to radical Islam. In fact, it is hard to find anyone that would not visit an Islamist website at least once in his life. It is also worth noting that the brothers apparently watched a video like that two months ago ( It is unclear what may have sparked their interest in these types of videos. One of the videos they had watched, “Allah is the One,” is just a two-and-a-half-minute-long Muslim propagandist video, which recites in English the first sura from the Quran ( The next video recording is titled, “Mikail Sokolov: How I Came to Islam.” This video is 18 minutes long and tells about an ethnic Russian who converted to Islam—to the Shia branch of Islam to be precise. A Sunni would never watch a video about conversion to Shiism. So, the brothers were not very selective about which videos they opted to watch. Two online videos they watched recently depicted musical performance by a Russian performer Vasya Oblomov, who is considered to be in opposition to Russian authorities ( Finally, the fifth video, just dealt with skiing (

Moreover, one can find videos on the Internet that appear to show the eldest brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev drinking what appears to be alcohol at a bar. So it is still too early to connect the brothers to jihadist forces until more substantial information comes to light.

A Preliminary Profile of the Boston Bombers: The Tsarnaev Brothers

By Mairbek Vatchagaev

The Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan, 26 years old, and 19-year-old Jokhar, have been accused of carrying out the bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15. Tamerlan has died from injuries sustained from a shootout with police on Friday, April 19. While, as of the publication of this article, the younger brother, Jokhar, is still at large.

The Tsarnaev family used to reside in Kyrgyzstan. They probably ended up in Kyrgyzstan after mass deportation of Chechens from the North Caucasus in 1944. Today, there are approximately 20,000 ethnic Chechens still residing in Kyrgyzstan. Shortly before the onset of the second Russian-Chechen war in September 1999, the Tsarnaev family moved to their homeland in Chechnya. After the war began in 1999, they moved to Dagestan, having apparently become refugees. The fact that they resided in Makhachkala and not in Khasavyurt, as most other ethnic Chechens in the republic, indicates that they had the financial means to live in the capital of Dagestan, which is quite expensive. They also had relatives in the city and were able to send their children to one of the best schools in Makhachkala, School #1.  The younger brother, Jokhar Tsarnaev, went to this school only for one year where he completed the first grade (

Subsequently, the family was divided as the father, Anzor, stayed in Makhachkala, while the rest of the family started looking for ways to emigrate from the North Caucasus. His mother, Zubeidat, had four children: two sons and two daughters, who managed to emigrate legally to the United States. Once in the US, she received permanent residence for herself and her children. The mother’s first name, Zubeidat, suggests she was of Dagestani origin and that is probably why the family moved to Dagestan in the first place.

Having settled in the Boston area, the Tsarnaevs tried to adapt to their new home. The elder brother, Tamerlan, received a degree in engineering and was a boxer, who reportedly dreamed of competing in sporting events under the US flag. Tamerlan received US resident status in 2007 (

The second brother, 19-year-old Jokhar, had only just begun to attend college. On his Internet page of the online social network, he described his views and also listed several groups of which he was a member. Jokhar was a member of three Muslim groups, but none of the groups could be described as terrorist or jihadist; they rather provided information about Islam. One of the groups, for instance, Salamword collected funds for people suffering with cancer. The second group, Islam.Muslims.Islam, simply spread photographs of mosques from around the world. The third group, called Lya ‘iLyaha’iLla-Pust Zvuchit V Nashikh Serdtsakh, does nothing besides quoting Muslim hadiths.

In light of preliminary information about the Tsarnaevs, there does not appear to be much, if any, indication that Jokhar had any connection to jihadist groups or sympathized with the most well-known terrorist organization in the North Caucasus called the Caucasus Emirate, or any other similar groups. On the contrary, in one of his blog entries, he laments having no American friends, having lived in the country for so long. All of his friends were from the former Soviet Union.

Another surprising piece of evidence suggests that Jokhar had accessed his webpage at 3 o’clock Boston time, but did not leave any comments. It was unclear whether it was AM or PM time ( The bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line were detonated at approximately 2:50 PM, local time.

The father of the two brothers from Makhachkala reckons that his children were framed and that his son Jokhar was like an angel ( Friends of the brothers describe them as ordinary American guys.

In any case, the Boston police already have made a mistake in their preliminary analysis of the brothers, stating that the suspects may have received martial skills, including the ability to make Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Chechnya. They were not present in Chechnya, either during the first war (1994-1995) or during the second war in Chechnya that started in September 1999. The brothers would not have been able to receive any type of fighting or military experience because of their age. Their family emigrated to the US when the eldest brother was only 16. Taking into account that before their move to the US they had lived in Russia for two years and prior to that they had resided for one year in Dagestan, it is hard to see their connection to militants operating in Chechnya or elsewhere in the North Caucasus.