WASHINGTON — There remains a great deal of information authorities are seeking to learn about the pair of young men identified as suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, including details of their lives and possible motivations for committing such heinous crimes.
One fact that will get plenty of attention, however, is their ethnic roots, which trace back to Chechnya — an area of the Caucasus Mountains that has seen a great deal of violence over the years, spawned from the republic's repeated, bloody and unsuccessful struggles for independence.
“They come from a region of the world which is yet still very much in an unstable state,” said Thomas Gouttierre, director of the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Center for Afghanistan Studies.
Gouttierre has served since 1986 on a U.S.-Russia task force, known as the Dartmouth Conference, that is intended to foster dialogue between the two countries.
That group has previously discussed the long-standing conflicts between Russia and Chechnya, which lies among remote mountains.
“The thing we need to know is that this issue goes way, way, way back to the time of the czars, when Czarist Russia was subjugating all of the Caucasus area,” Gouttierre said.
Over the years, Soviet leaders often tried to move people around, by enticement or forced relocation — moves that contributed to the Chechen population becoming geographically dispersed and that sowed resentment.
As the Soviet Union collapsed, Russian leaders were interested in hanging on to those regions, but Chechnya still was agitating for independence.
That led to civil war.
Tarik Abdel-Monem, a research specialist with the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, has written in law review articles about the human rights violations the Russians allegedly committed.
“The war itself was absolutely horrible, and there was obviously all sorts of instances of backlash,” he said.
Militants from Chechnya and neighboring provinces have carried out a series of terrorist attacks in Russia, including a 2002 raid on a Moscow theater in which 129 hostages died, most of them from the effects of narcotics gas that Russian special forces pumped into the building to incapacitate the attackers.
It's important to note there is no indication yet that the Boston bombings were motivated by a desire to land a blow for Chechen independence.
Authorities have not linked Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to any insurgent groups, and the Kremlin-backed strongman who now leads Chechnya says the brothers got their inspiration in the United States, not the troubled region in southern Russia.
“They weren't living here. They were living, studying and growing up in America,” Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said in an interview on Russian television. “They have been educated there, not here.”
The families of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the 26-year-old killed overnight Thursday in a gunbattle with police in Massachusetts, and his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar, left Chechnya long ago and moved to Central Asia, according to the Chechen government.
Before arriving in the United States a decade ago, the brothers lived briefly in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, a neighboring, violence-racked Russian province where their father resides.
The conflict in Chechnya began in 1994 as a separatist war, but it became an Islamic insurgency dedicated to forming an Islamic state in the Caucasus. Dagestan has since become the epicenter of the insurgency.
Gouttierre said it's certainly possible the brothers were motivated by some attachment to their homeland that led them into such extremist activity.
“But it's also just as possible it has nothing to do with that particular issue,” Gouttierre said. “It could just be something that is grating on them from their experiences in the United States as well.”
Also not known is whether terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida could be involved.
“That is I think the $64 million question: Is there that connection?” Gouttierre said. “I think a lot of people are assuming there must be that kind of connection.”
But he said it was premature to make that kind of leap.
Abdel-Monem echoed that sentiment, noting that the Boston incidents already have led to the unfortunate profiling of innocent individuals.
“I would just really be cautious in terms of where people jump to conclusions,” he said.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.
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