by Peter Lentini
The received wisdom is that the Tsarnaev brothers launched their attack on the Boston Marathon to advance the cause of their fellow Chechens.
But is this correct?
Two notable Chechens are absent from the virtual hall of heroes and martyrs onKavkazcenter.com, the official website of the Caucasus Emirate (CE), the self-proclaimed Islamist state in Russia’s Caucasus region (which Russia and the US State Department have designated a terrorist entity): 26-year old Tamerlan, and 19-year old Dzhokhar (Johar) Tsarnaev, who allegedly perpetrated the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombings which killed three and wounded more than 170, and several days later also purportedly murdered a policeman working at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In an April 21, 2013 statement, the Command of the Mujahideen of the CE Dagestan Province stressed that their group was “not fighting with the United States of America”, that Russia is their enemy, and that the Leader of the Caucasus Emirate Dokku Umarov (Dokka Abu Usman) issued a declaration prohibiting his fighters from conducting acts of violence against civilians (but not military personnel) in February 2012.
That the brothers’ alleged actions on April 15 radically contradict and contravene CE policies and directives, and that Kavkazcenter.com has made serious efforts to distance itself and the CE from the Tsarnaevs’ alleged actions is significant, suggesting it is highly likely the Tsarnaevs did not consider the Chechen or broader Caucasian struggle against Russia as their primary motivation.
It is also very probable the Tsarnaevs conducted their attack without any overseas organisation’s direction or financial assistance.
How the Tsarnaevs used social media suggests they may have identified with broader causes: that Johar posted his worldview as “Islam” on his social media sites, might just be a benign, honest statement of faith; but it could also suggest that he may have identified with a broader ummah (nation or global Islamic community), beyond the brothers’ beleaguered co-ethnics.
However, Tamerlan had become more religiously and politically intolerant over the past several years, and began posting extremist videos celebrating violence on his social media sites.
Developments in neo-jihadist doctrines and new and social media provide further insights into how they may have developed a broader worldview and acquired the means by which to perpetrate terrorist attacks.
Neo-jihadist strategist and fighter Abu Musab al-Suri produced the internet-circulated The Global Call to the Islamic Resistance, in 2005. He stresses that the US-led invasion of Afghanistan significantly impeded al-Qaeda’s ability to assist similar groups materially and otherwise.
Therefore, it was up to individuals and small groups to finance, prepare for, and execute attacks in their own countries on their own, independent of outside sources of funding, support and instruction.
The book was very influential globally: the leader of the cell arrested in Melbourne in 2005 praised this cyber manual fulsomely and drew on it extensively while he and his colleagues were preparing for a terrorist attack in Australia. It is regarded as the textbook of home-grown terrorism.
That law enforcement in the US and Boston Mayor Tom Menino have indicated that the Tsarnaev brothers probably acted on their own in the attack suggests that they were following at least the spirit, if not the letter of al-Suri’s treatise.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have been circulating the English-language Inspire Magazine) to motivate prospective terrorists to conduct these individual or small cell attacks, and to provide them with instructions on how to do so since 2009.
A very recent issue of Inspire Magazine included instructions on making explosive devices using pressure cookers, and also suggested that perpetrators should not claim responsibility for successful attacks.
There is an eerie correspondence between these instructions and what occurred in the Boston Marathon bombings and its aftermath. Forensic experts confirmed that the bombs used in the April 15 attacks included parts that had been treated in pressure cookers, and no one claimed responsibility for the operation.
It has not yet been reported whether or not either or both of the Tsarnaevs had ever accessed issues of Inspire Magazine, were ever in possession of any of its issues nor even if either or both of the Tsarnaev brothers built the devices themselves.
Nonetheless, the attack they conducted corresponded with recent internet-circulated documents that were prepared to advance Islamist causes and conduct terrorist attacks. Therefore, it remains plausible that the Tsarnaevs may have been attempting to advance a broader Islamist agenda independently of any established entity, and doubtful that they were in league with or advancing a Chechen or North Caucasus cause.
As Tamerlan died following a shootout with US Federal and Massachusetts State and municipal law enforcement officers, and Johar is in hospital recovering from serious wounds he received in that fight and attempting to evade arrest, including a (perhaps self-inflicted) throat wound, it remains to be seen whether one of the brothers will tell the world what motivated them.
Many questions may remain unanswered.
Associate Professor Peter Lentini is the Director of the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University.
This article also appeared in The Conversation.
- Dr Peter Lentini
- Global Terrorism Research Centre
- School of Political and Social Inquiry
- Master of Counter-Terrorism Studies
- Significant investment for the performing arts at Monash University
Monash Chinese Studies students awarded study scholarships in language competition
Last week saw Monash Arts students win the “Chinese Bridge” Chinese Language Proficiency Competition for Foreign University … Continue reading Monash Chinese Studies students awarded study scholarships in language competition
Bright ideas at the Arts Delineator: encouraging start-ups and entrepreneurship
There was a real creative buzz in the room at today’s ‘Delineator’ session at Monash … Continue reading Bright ideas at the Arts Delineator: encouraging start-ups and entrepreneurship
Small viruses, big questions: Ethical responses to Zika and Ebola
The Zika virus has been a concern for 2016 Olympics in Rio, Professor Michael Selgelid considers the complex ethical issues such viruses present.
Medieval history and finding what you love: A conversation with Monash Historian Kathleen Neal
We recently chatted to Monash Historian, Dr Kathleen Neal. Kathleen discussed her first career as … Continue reading Medieval history and finding what you love: A conversation with Monash Historian Kathleen Neal
History in practice: Monash Arts graduate interned with International Criminal Tribunal
In 2015 Monash Arts/Law alumnus, Stephanie Sprott, did an internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former … Continue reading History in practice: Monash Arts graduate interned with International Criminal Tribunal
Dr Ahmad Sarmast awarded UNESCO Cultural Heritage Rescue Prize
We are pleased to announce that Dr Ahmad Sarmast, founder and Director of the Afghanistan … Continue reading Dr Ahmad Sarmast awarded UNESCO Cultural Heritage Rescue Prize
Monash Theatre and Performance Centre receives $1 million donation for Artists in Residence Program
Melbourne philanthropist Dr Jeanne Pratt AC has donated $1,000,000 to Monash University’s Centre for Theatre … Continue reading Monash Theatre and Performance Centre receives $1 million donation for Artists in Residence Program
Monash in Focus: Kate Brabon, Vogel’s Award winner
Monash in Focus recently featured Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award winner Kate Brabon. Kate is a PhD … Continue reading Monash in Focus: Kate Brabon, Vogel’s Award winner
Monash journalism students report on federal election for UniPollWatch and The Guardian
Monash University’s journalism students are part of Australia’s largest newsroom, reporting on the 2016 federal … Continue reading Monash journalism students report on federal election for UniPollWatch and The Guardian
Monash Gender Peace and Security secures Linkage Grant
In a success for Monash Arts research, the Gender, Peace and Security Initiative has recently secured a major ARC Linkage … Continue reading Monash Gender Peace and Security secures Linkage Grant
Vogel’s Literary Award for PhD candidate Kate Brabon
Earlier this week, Kate Brabon was announced as the winner of the 2016 Australian/Vogel’s Literary … Continue reading Vogel’s Literary Award for PhD candidate Kate Brabon