Islamic Extremism Festering in Russia

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

The Boston Bombers were not likely part of a Russian terror organization, but the next ones could be.

by Cristina Maza

In the wake of the Boston bombings, spotlights were shone on Russia’s Muslim-majority republics in a way unseen since the second Chechen War came to an end in 2009. The two brothers who perpetrated the bombings, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, have family ties throughout the region, leading many to believe that the atrocious acts of terror they committed were linked to global terrorism networks that originate in the northern Caucasus and span across the world into the United States. Many astute commentators, however, doubt that the crimes of the Tsarnaev brothers had much to do with their connections to a specific religious leader or extremist group. Experts in the United States are split over whether the two brothers were at all part of a larger conspiracy or just two lost boys who, unable to assimilate into American culture, turned to radical Islam in search of a lost identity.

The life stories of these two troubled youth, their connections to the post-Soviet space, and the path that brought them to the United States are perplexing, to say the least. Both of the Tsarnaev parents are of Chechen origin, but it is unclear whether either of the two brothers were born in Chechnya. While some sources claim that at least the eldest brother was, others have found that he was born in the area now known as Kalmykia. What is clear is that after the war broke out in 1999, the family fled first to Dagestan (where the younger Tsarnaev brother eventually attended elementary school) and then to neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

After the family immigrated to the United States in 2002, the boys did not return to the region until 2011 when their father moved back to Dagestan after falling ill. Following his father’s return to Russia, the eldest Tsarnaev brother spent six months in Dagestan, where some believe he was influenced by radical factions. Those accused of influencing the eldest Tsarnaev during his visit to Russia include diverse figures such as Caucasus Emirate terror group leader Dokka Umarov and members of the Dagestan-based extremist group Shariat Jamaat. None of these connections, however, have been proven.

If Tamerlan Tsarnaev was influenced during his 2012 journeys to Chechnya and Dagestan, it is more likely to have been by foreign jihadists residing in the Caucasus. Salafism, also known as Wahhabism, a radical branch of Islam, has become increasingly present since the second Chechen War brought volunteer veterans from Afghanistan and other surrounding areas. Following the war, many of the volunteers remained to establish terrorist sects in the region. The international community paid little attention to the phenomenon until …

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