Why the Media and Power Establishment Prevented the Public from Understanding the Tsarnaev Bomber Brothers' Motives

This article first appeared at Not Safe for Work Corporation.

"Proud to be from Chechnya, I miss my homeland. #chechnyanpower" — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

"This family [Tsarnaevs] was trying to settle in a number of places but could not properly assimilate anywhere. At the same time, they could always refer to Chechnya, which is seen as a land of noble knights and as a fairy-tale island by many Chechens who have never lived there." — Maierbek Vatchagayev, president, Association of Caucasian Studies

As soon as the Boston Marathon bombers were identified as two brothers from Chechnya who had been granted political asylum in the US a decade earlier, experts from both the left and the right furiously assured us that the bombings and shootings that left five dead and some 270 wounded had nothing to do with Chechnya or the brothers’ Chechen identity and experience.

On the right, there’s been an effort to hitch the blame all on their two favorite villains: Islam, and Vladimir Putin. The right is more responsible than anyone for coddling and protecting Chechen terrorists and separatists — Washington neocons and their right-wing allies have been assuring us for over a decade that Chechen terrorism isn’t really terrorism, since Chechens only kill Russians. It makes no logical sense, but that hasn’t stopped the neocon/right-wing lobby from arguing all this time that Chechens have some kind of Western-gag-reflex preventing their violence from blowing back this way.

On the left and libertarian side, stories of the Boston Marathon bombings were stripped of just about every relevant and interesting detail. It was all whittled down to a canned cautionary tale on the evils of the US police state. In the left’s defense, at least they’ve been motivated by recent history — previous terror attacks have led to ethnic and religious profiling targeting Muslims. That’s understandable, but it’s not journalism. Willful ignorance in the name of virtue does not tend to illuminate anything.

Meanwhile, US counterterrorism officials played around with their clunky definitions trying to decide if one or both brothers were "self-radicalized" or "never radicalized" or "radicalized on the Internet" or "radicalized in Dagestan."

With any serious attempt to understand the Tsarnaev brothers, the inadequacy of such facile definitions becomes clear. What made them kill and maim so many Americans when America was the only country that did a lot to improve their lives? And how could it be possible to deny the importance of key aspects of their lives — their personal experiences as Chechens in Russia, their Chechen identity, their rather banal struggles and family infighting as immigrants in the USA.

Of all the myths about Tsarnaevs that "experts" in the media have pushed, the stupidest and most offensive falsehood is the claim that that Chechnya — its violence, wars and savagery — played no role in shaping Tamerlan and his younger brother, Dzhokhar. Tamerlan’s fourth-grade teacher told journalists who bothered asking — German journalists from Focus magazine — that she recalled how traumatized young Tamerlan was from living in Chechnya up through Boris Yeltsin’s invasion and the shelling of the Tsarnaev’s village in 1995. This teacher described Tamerlan as a "refugee from Chechnya, from the war and terrorism."

And yet, we were assured, Chechnya had nothing to do with shaping the Tsarnaev brothers’ minds or their actions.

Initially, the old right-wing Cold War outfit, the Jamestown Foundation, led the PR campaign to steer attention away from Chechnya — and Jamestown’s "experts" were front and center, cited in just about every major media outlet in the days after the Tsarnaev brothers’ identities were revealed. Unlike other right-wing interests, Jamestown and its allies in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (both Jamestown and RFE/RL were founded by the CIA during the Cold War) downplayed both the Chechnya angle and the extent to which jihadi terrorism dominates the Chechen separatist movement.

On the day of Dhokhar Tsarnaev’s arrest, Jamestown expert Valery Dzutsev posted a blog asking "Did the Tsarnaev Brothers Have Links to Chechen Militants?" Dzutsev answered his own question:

"Little suggests that they were linked to the insurgency movement in the North Caucasus or another jihadi movement.. 

The most plausible explanation [...] is that some personal events triggered a violent response from the Tsarnaev brothers."

Jamestown expert Mairbek Vatchagaev, amazingly enough, came to the same counter-factual conclusion:

"There is not appear [sic] 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."

In other words, the Tsarnaevs were just a pair of emo-terrorists.

Over at government propaganda Radio Liberty, Aslan Doukev, who heads the North Caucasus Department, agreed that Chechen identity and the pure-as-gold Chechen separatist movement (which Doukev’s desk has promoted all these years) had zilch to do with the Tsarnaevs’ turn to terrorism, and everything to do with evil Islam, according to the Washington Post:

"One possible explanation for the Boston bombings, said Aslan Doukaev, an expert on the Caucasus who works for Radio Liberty in Prague, is that the brothers were motivated by radical jihadism, not Chechen separatism."

The usual Islamophobe suspects agreed with Doukaev: the Boston bombing was inspired by evil Islam, not Chechnya or Chechen separatism.

Debbie Schlussel shrieked:

"I note that every single major news broadcast only refers to these guys as "Chechnyan" or "Chechen" terrorists, NOT Islamic terrorists, which is what they are. ...Remember, THIS. IS. ISLAM"

...while carrot-top Canuckocon Mark Steyn quipped:

"Strictly between us, I can count what I know about Chechens on one leg...whatever was bugging him didn't have a lot to do with Chechnya...while the Chechen-nationalist struggle has certainly become more Islamic in the last two decades, it's a bit of a mystery what it has to do with [...] Massachusetts marathons....whatever their particular inheritance, many young Muslims in the West come to embrace a pan-Islamic identity."

Professor Brian Glyn Williams, who doesn’t like me very much, offered two opposing theories that all but canceled each other out, as reported in the CBC:

"The sheer fact that there's so much terror in their country [Chechnya] — suicide bombings and catastrophe — you know it's seems to be too obvious that somehow [it was] the precursor and origins [sic] of this act," said Williams, though he noted the attack may not have anything to do with the family's Chechen background.

But the most popular theory among Chechnya-separatist apologists was the most counter-intuitive theory of all: If two self-proclaimed Chechen jihadis set off the Boston Marathon bombings, then obviously Vladimir Putin was behind it. Sure, that’s like blaming 9/11 on Israel, except this is different — if your unfounded conspiracy theory blames Russia, it’s completely reasonable; if it blames the West, it’s a symptom of mental illness, argued BuzzFeed editor,"Buzzbagger" Ben Smith:

Reasonable people have directed truly horrendous allegations at President Vladimir Putin and his security services.

Yes, those "reasonable people" are back again — one of whom, according to BuzzFeed’s editor, is Chechen death squad leader-turned-president, Ramzan Kadyrov:

"Even the Chechen Republic’s president, Ramzan Kadyrov, included a bizarre note of paranoia in the words he posted to Instagram, a note of doubt about the suspects’ guilt — and about one suspect’s death.

"It is evident that the special services needed to calm society by any means possible," Kadyrov, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, wrote.

This may sound paranoid. But paranoids can have real enemies. And you don’t have to be crazy to believe Chechen allegations of baroque and brutal government conspiracies —at least, not when they’re directed at the Russian government.

One unexpected supporter of Kadyrov’s conspiracy theory was his arch-enemy, London-based Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev, who told his neocon contact in the Daily Beast:

"Chechens and the Chechen nation are not responsible what two crazy guys committed in the United States....Behind this action, we have to consider the involvement of a state organization or another big organization....I could believe if they come to Moscow that they have some instruction from someone, from Russian special services."

Kadyrov seed Zakayev's and BuzzBagger Ben's conspiracy theory, and raised him a Putin-friendly counter-conspiracy theory blaming the United States:

"[Attempts] to draw a parallel between Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs, if they are guilty, are futile. They grew up in the U.S., and their views and beliefs were formed there. The roots of the evil should be looked for in America."

Presumably, Chechens are capable of being simultaneously reasonable and crazy, depending on whom their conspiracy theory blames.

Just about every American hack was convinced at one point or another that the Tsarnaev brothers were Manchurian candidates — victims of either "Misha," the evil Armenian brainwasher, or of "Vlad," the evil Russian mind-controller. Although the Jamestown people knew better than just about anyone in this country, they were very selective about when to tell the truth and when to bullshit an ignorant public, and they were big promoters of these conspiracy theories.

Jamestown’s Valery Dzutsev got his ominous Parallax View on,cryptically speculating:

"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 (http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-16/world/38566064_1_boston-marathon-tom-donilon-obama). 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."

One could — and one did.

And another one did too:

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 (http://vk.com/id160300242?z=tag160300242). The bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line were detonated at approximately 2:50 PM, local time.

To Jamestown’s credit, their Chechnya-jihadi deflection strategy did produce some unintended comedy:

some experts have seized on the information that the brothers watched Islamist videos on YouTube (http://m.weeklystandard.com/blogs/boston-bomber-posted-video-black-flags-khorasan_718071.html). 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.

Steven Colbert couldn’t have deadpanned it better.

Perhaps the most disappointing example of self-censorship came from Professor Charles King, author of an excellent book, "The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus," who took to the Daily Beast to shoo anyone with a brain far away from the trails that led back to the Tsarnaev brothers’ beloved Chechnya:

In fact, any "Chechnya angle" to the story is overshadowed by the American one. The Tsarnaevs look much more like other homegrown terrorists — animal-rights extremists, white supremacists, anarchists, and lone-wolf ideologues — than like religious warriors fighting on a faraway and exotic frontier.

King made probably the single dumbest analogy in the post-Boston bombing orgy of hackery, claiming that despite what the Tsarnaev brothers announced all over their social media pages, and despite having lived in Chechnya and Dagestan, nevertheless Chechnya had no more influence on their psyches and their terrorism than the American-born Oklahoma bomber’s Scotch-Irishness:

"connecting the Tsarnaevs with this past — at least at this stage — is like wondering about Timothy McVeigh’s Scotch-Irishness: a true but ultimately irrelevant part of the background of the Oklahoma City bomber....the focus now should be on the Tsarnaevs as homegrown terrorists, not on the ethnic or regional origins of their family."

After reading that, I went into my Kindle and deleted King’s book, along with all the notes and highlights I made, to protect myself from being infected with Stupid.

All of these hacks share a common goal: Leave Chechnya out of this, even if Chechnya has something (or everything) to do with what happened.

In my last series of articles [available through subscription], I explained the deep geopolitical and oil interests that drew so much energy and interest from America’s foreign policy establishment towards Chechnya. I also outlined how this establishment supported the same sorts of violent jihadi terrorists that it condemns in other parts of the world.

Turning the camera around and looking at the story from the Tsarnaevs’ personal experience, you begin to see how whitewashing Chechnya out of the Boston bombing story is worse than hackery — it’s malpractice.

First, let’s look at Chechnya and at Chechens’ profound sense of ethnic identity and identification with their Caucasus homeland. It’s been argued to me and to the public that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar could not have been affected by Chechnya since a) they spent too little time there; and b) even if the brothers did spend any time in Chechnya, it was so long ago it’d all’ve been forgotten by 2013 anyway.

Many of these same people would agree, however, that African-Americans harbor understandably raw wounds over the history of slavery and segregation in the United States; or that American Jews with no personal ties to Israel or the Holocaust have nevertheless been inspired by both to life-changing behavior, sometimes insanely so. Pampered middle-class dweeb Jeffrey Goldberg healed his Holocaust wounds by joining the Meir Kahane Fan Club, and doing voluntary service as an Israeli detention camp guard where, by Goldberg’s own admission, he beat Palestinian prisoners.

These ignorant assumptions about Chechens and Chechnya can be corrected by looking at the biography of Chechnya’s first president and independence leader, Dzhokhar Dudayev — whom Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was named after.

Dudayev had spent little time in Chechnya before the national reawakening during the Gorbachev years. He was born in a highlands village in 1944 — just before the mass deportation that year that sent Dudayev’s family to Kazakhstan.

As I’ve previously written, in 1944, Stalin accused the Chechen people (and five other ethnic groups in the Soviet south) of collaborating with the Nazis, and mass-deported them to Central Asia in what many, myself included, consider an act of genocide — at least one-fifth of the entire Chechen population died within the first couple of years of that deportation. In 1957, Chechens were allowed to return to Chechnya, but no sooner had Dzhokhar moved back than he moved to Vladikavkaz in Christian North Ossetia, and then to the Russian city of Tambov, where Dudayev earned his wings as a Soviet air force pilot. Dudayev eventually rose to the rank of Soviet major-general, the first and only Chechen general in the Soviet armed forces — reportedly his duties included bombing raids on mujahedeen forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Dudayev spent very little time in Chechnya before 1989, and he spoke Chechen with some difficulty. He married an Orthodox Christian Russian, Alla, the daughter of a Soviet officer; she was not asked to convert to Islam, and their children were not brought up Muslim. By Chechen standards, Dudayev was an assimilated outsider. Mixed marriages were extremely rare among ethnic Chechens at that time, despite the Soviet Union’s high rate of interethnic marriages. According to a 1989 Soviet census cited in Valery Tishkov’s book "Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society," 93.7 percent of Chechen families in Chechnya were monoethnic. Taking the entire Soviet Union as a whole, the figure was almost the same - 88.5 percent of Chechen families were monoethnic.

Tishkov explains this low rate of intermarriage by quoting a leading Chechen sociologist of the late Soviet era, Zulai Khasbulatova:

"[O]ne of the reasons for the insignificant proportion of interethnic marriages was the negative attitude of parents. The survival of religious and other prejudices ... also played a part."

In other words, Dzhokhar Dudayev was one of the most assimilated Chechens imaginable as late as the mid-1980s. And yet a few years later, Dudayev’s Chechen roots drew him back to his ancestral homeland, and transformed him almost overnight into a radical Chechen nationalist and a violent extremist who oversaw the ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of non-Chechen residents, and led Chechnya down the first steps towards adopting Saudi-influencedSharia rule. Dzhokhar Dudayev also led Chechnya into its independence-or-death struggle with Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, resulting in tens of thousands of civilians killed.

Stalin’s deportation has often been cited as the main cause of Chechen fanaticism, which has been by turns heroic and utterly savage. But this ignores the fact that five of the six ethnic peoples deported by Stalin during World War II (Muslim Balkars, Karachays, Ingush and Tartars from the Crimea; and Buddhist Kalmyks) did not follow Chechnya’s path to war. The Ingush are ethnically close to Chechens. Both are "Vainakh," and until 1992, they lived together in one republic, the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. It was only when Dzhokhar Dudayev took over as president in late 1991 — accompanied by mobs of his supporters who stormed the Chechen parliament and defenestrated the ethnic Russian parliament speaker — that the Ingush amicably seceded from Chechnya and chose to remain as a republic within the Russian Federation, in order to avoid the bloodshed everyone knew was coming.

The excitement of an independent Chechnya, and its promise of possibilities, drew Chechens from all over the Soviet Union back to their homeland in 1991 — including Anzor Tsarnaev, his Dagestani wife, and his young son Tamerlan, who was born in 1986 in Kalmykia, a Buddhist republic on Russia’s north Caspian coast. The Tsarnaevs had originally come from a Chechen village named Chiri-Yurt, located 20 miles south of the capital Grozny, at the mouth of the Argun Gorge, the base of the steep mountain range, the dividing point between the Chechen lowlanders and the "barbarian" highlanders. The extended Tsarnaev family was deported along with everyone else in 1944, and forcibly settled two thousand miles away in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar’s father, Anzor Tsarnaev, was born in Tokmok, during the exile. Anzor’s father had been killed in an accident — "blown to bits" by an unexploded artillery shell, while out with a metal detector looking for scrap metal to pawn.

After Stalin’s death, most of the extended Tsarnaev family — which had grown so numerous, they reportedly occupied an entire street of houses in Tokmok — eventually returned to Chiri-Yurt in Chechnya. Many relatives still live there today, and in the nearby town of Urus-Martan

In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and shootings, family members denied that the children had ever been to Chechnya; later, they admitted that yes, the family had moved to Chechnya in the early 1990s, but it was unclear for how long. And yes, Tamerlan had visited Chechnya on at least two occasions in 2012 — but only to visit their relatives in Chiri-Yurt and nearby Urus-Martan.

In the early 1990s, Anzor Tsarnaev sold everything they owned in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan, and moved his family to Chiri-Yurt, 20 miles south of Chechnya’s capital, Grozny, where Anzor was given his own plot of land inherited from his ancestors.

In 1993, two years after moving back to Chechnya, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the youth currently awaiting trial for the Boston bombings and shootings, was born. He was named in honor of Chechnya’s independence leader, Dzhokhar Dudayev — even though by 1993, Dudayev was a polarizing figure within Chechnya itself. Dudayev grew increasingly violent, authoritarian, and paranoid, claiming, for example, that Yeltsin was planning to set off "fake earthquakes" in Chechnya in order to retake control.

By 1993, domestic opposition against Dzhokhar Dudayev grew in strength and threatened his hold on power. President Dudayev disbanded Chechnya’s local parliament and its courts, suspended the constitution, and arrested, beat and murdered many of his domestic opponents. In the spring of that year, anti-Dudayev protesters in Grozny were "mowed down by Dudayev’s death squads" on Theater Square.

Indeed in one of the strangest twists in recent Russia-Chechnya history, Dzhokhar Dudayev wrote a personal letter to Russian president Boris Yeltsin — who in 1993 also faced a hostile parliament — advising Yeltsin to follow the same authoritarian path that he, Dudayev, had taken:

"Being in possession of vast and, believe me, highly reliable information about the work of the opponents . . . of executive power in Russia and also of those historical reforms for which you so selflessly battle, I would like to protect you from the possibility of further growth of opposition in the Russian Federation, which could lead to unpredictable and irreparable consequences....In jurisprudence there is justification for a less severe crime that does not entail judicial consequences if it is committed with the aim of preventing a more serious crime. It’s the way things are done with the troops: as long as a decision has been made—even if it is incorrect—it is wiser and more expedient to carry it out to the end than to stop halfway and adopt a new decision."

In the fall of 1993, Yeltsin defied his constitution and disbanded the opposition-controlled parliament, using tanks and troops, killing hundreds.

In December 1994 — as support for Dzhokhar Dudayev was falling — Boris Yeltsin invaded Chechnya, bombing the capital city Grozny into rubble — nearly emptying the city of 400,000. Forever after, Chechnya rallied around Dzhokhar Dudayev’s independence fight.

Many of the first war’s civilian victims in Grozny were ethnic Russian pensioners who never left because they had nowhere to go, no family to support them, unlike the locals or those who were able to escape between 1991 and 1994. Ethnic Russian pensioners were stuck in their apartment buildings, and many died there as a result of indiscriminate Russian bombing and shelling.

Thousands were killed in the first few weeks and months of Yeltsin’s invasion. In the spring of 1995, after Grozny was sufficiently flattened and emptied of life, the Russian army turned its sights southward —in the direction of the Tsarnaevs’ home village, Chiri-Yurt. The village is strategically located at the base of the gorge leading up to the Chechen highlands, where the separatist fighters were taking refuge; Chiri-Yurt was also the site of the largest cement factory in the greater Caucasus region, which had once employed tens of thousands.

The job of taking Chiri-Yurt fell to one of Russia’s most brutal generals, Vladimir Shamanov. His strategy was fairly simple: bomb, shell and flatten everything, then terrorize whatever’s left alive. His Russian forces surrounded Chiri-Yurt, bombing and shelling the village nonstop for a week. By the time Shamanov’s forces moved in, nothing was left of the cement factory but rubble and ruins. The Tsarnaev home had been flattened by Shamanov’s forces, along with all the standing structures on their street, according Tamerlan’s aunt.

It was during this time that the Tsarnaev family fled Chiri-Yurt, and returned to exile in Kyrgyzstan, in Tokmok. A neighbor in Tokmok later told reporters that the Tsarnaevs arrived back in nothing but "clothes they would wear only around the house," and how they’d "fled the bombing, managing only to grab their documents and a few things."

This would be the first in a string of emigration failures for the Tsarnaev family: They moved to their ancestral homeland full of hope and promise, and were forced to retreat back to the place where Stalin had dumped them off to die 50 years earlier.

The boys showed clear signs of post-traumatic stress disorder from the war and violence. Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s fourth-grade teacher in Kyrgyzstan, Natalya Kurochkina, told German journalists fromFocus magazine,

"Tamerlan would flinch if so much as a little firecracker went off. We understood right away that they came from a war zone. It was obvious that this child had been through a lot."

"I think he was somehow affected by what he had seen during the [Chechen] war...all that was going on in Chechnya then, the terrorist acts."

Tamerlan’s father, Anzor, found work in the local prosecutor’s office for the Kyrgyzstan government. Many of Anzor’s siblings became lawyers, some quite successful — including Anzor’s sister, who lives in Canada, and his younger brother Ruslan, the most successful of the siblings. It was Ruslan Tsarni (neé "Tsarnaev") who told reporters after the bombings that his nephews, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, were "losers" who had been "brainwashed" by their Dagestani mother, and by "Misha" the evil Armenian convert.

Uncle Ruslan represented the positive side of the American Dream for the Tsarnaev extended clan. Uncle Ruslan had a knack for making all the right choices; Anzor, not so much.

In 1995, the same year Anzor Tsarnaev fled Chechnya with his family and returned to Kyrgyzstan, his younger brother Ruslan was working as a consultant for Arthur Anderson on a USAID contract to develop capital markets structures in Kazakhstan, whose huge untapped oil reserves were the source of an undeclared pipeline war that I wrote about in my last series of articles. In the late 1990s, Uncle Ruslan joined the Kazakh office of American law firm Salans Hertzfeld, where he serviced multinational oil companies tapping into Kazakhstan’s rich oil, gas and mineral resources.

Uncle Ruslan married into geopolitical royalty — Susan Fuller, the daughter of one of the most powerful CIA Cold War figures, Graham Fuller. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar’s father, on the hand, married a crazy Avar from Dagestan — at least, that’s how Uncle Ruslan put it in no uncertain terms, and with some justification, according to people whom I’ve spoken to who knew Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, and according to numerous other reports.

Uncle Ruslan’s father-in-law, Graham Fuller, had been forced into retirement from the CIA in the late 1980s over his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. Although never convicted of a crime, Graham Fuller has been named as the architect of the policy rationale used to justify the Iran-Contra operation, under which US arms were illegally sold to Ayatollah Khomeini’s armed forces. Profits from those illegal arms sales were used to make illegal arms purchases for the CIA-backed Contra forces fighting in Nicaragua.

At Harvard, Graham Fuller studied under Zbigniew Brzezinski, chairman of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya. In 1978, when Brzezinski was Jimmy Carter’s token Cold War hawk in the White House, Graham Fuller served as CIA station chief in Kabul, where Brzezinski hatched his now-famous plot to sow chaos in Afghanistan and draw in a costly Soviet invasion.

Fuller later explained:

"I was interested in understanding the soft underbelly of the Soviet Union, which is why I wanted to serve in Afghanistan."

The 1978 coup in Afghanistan, Fuller's last year in Kabul, sparked a series of violent backlashes and power-struggles that eventually drew in the hoped-for Soviet invasion in late 1979.

Fuller comes from that faction of CIA Cold Warriors who believed (and still apparently believe) that fundamentalist Islam, even in its radical jihadi form, does not pose a threat to the West, for the simple reason that fundamentalist Islam is conservative, against social justice, against socialism and redistribution of wealth, and in favor of hierarchical socio-economic structures. Socialism is the common enemy to both capitalist America and to Wahhabi Islam, according to Fuller.

According to journalist Robert Dreyfuss’ book "Devil’s Game," Fuller explained his attraction to radical Islam in neoliberal/libertarian terms:

"There is no mainstream Islamic organization...with radical social views," he wrote. "Classical Islamic theory envisages the role of the state as limited to facilitating the well-being of markets and merchants rather than controlling them. Islamists have always powerfully objected to socialism and communism....Islam has never had problems with the idea that wealth is unevenly distributed."

Some people who have come across the incredible coincidence of all these high-powered CIA names and the Chechen Tsarnaevs as proof of some sort of Masonic conspiracy. Most journalists are already freaked out enough by the simplest details of the Boston Marathon bombing and the FBI murder of Ibragim Todashev during his interrogation. They don’t want to go anywhere near this.

As I’ve argued already, I think there’s a far simpler and more obvious explanation for this: Chechnya is a small land, its people number just over a million. In the United States, there are only a few hundred Chechen political refugees, maybe a few thousand immigrants at most. Yet the region they come from has been, since the end of the Cold War, the real ground zero of a major geopolitical and energy resource battle between the West, Russia and the Gulf Kingdoms. By the law of averages, in a world as small and important as Chechen separatism and Caspian oil, coincidences like this are made far more likely than most people understand.

* *

In late summer 1999, thousands of Chechen so-called "Wahhabi" radicals invaded the Russian territory of Dagestan, led by a Saudi jihadi with a matted beard and unkempt hair named "Khattab." The invasion failed after a couple of weeks — leaving nearly 300 Russian servicemen dead. As the Chechen and Islamic jihadi forces retreated (among Khattab’s mercenaries were Afghans, Arabs and Pakistanis) Khattab told an AP reporter he’d get revenge in the form of bombings around Russia:

"From now on, we will not only fight against Russian fighter jets (and) tanks. From now on, they will get our bombs everywhere. Let Russia await our explosions blasting through their cities. I swear we will do it."

Khattab spoke those words to AP reporter Greg Myre — who went on to the New York Times and now, NPR — as a series of spectacular terrorist explosions brought down apartment buildings across European Russia, killing hundreds. The explosions began in early September, 1999, when a truck bomb leveled a five-story apartment block in Dagestan’s second largest city, Buinaksk, near the border with Chechnya, killing 68 and wounding over 150. The apartment building had housed Russian border guard officers and their families; many of the dead and wounded were women and children. The bombing left a 10-foot crater in front of the apartment building; two more truck bombs were timed to detonate, but were defused. The bombing coincided with a second Khattab-Chechen invasion into Dagestan.

Then the apartment bombings came to Moscow. On September 9, 1999, a nine-story apartment block was partially leveled in the Pechatniki district in the city’s south, killing 94 and wounding 249. Four days later, another apartment block structure was destroyed just a few miles away from the first, on Kashirksoye Shosse. All 119 inhabitants died in the blast, and over 200 more were injured in nearby buildings.

It was a strange and unsettling time to be in Moscow, those last few months of 1999 — like one long awful speed crash. At the time I lived in one of the big Stalin gothics, the Vysotka near Taganka, built after the war by German captive slave labor. It was exactly the sort of apartment building a real terrorist group who hated Russia — and Stalin — would want to level. The Vysotka rose above the Moscow River like a giant thumb-between-index-and-middle-finger fuck-you aimed straight at the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Because of my swarthy Sephardic looks, I was getting stopped all the time for looking like a "black ass" — a Chechen. Russian police call my looks "a face from a suspicious nationality." "Operation Whirlwind" swept up hundreds of Moscow civilians with "faces from a suspicious nationality." And just like my fellow "faces from a suspicious nationality," I tried avoiding the metro, walking in underpasses, or walking past beat cops during that time. The bribes were through the roof; some people suffered worse things than bribery. They can always find something wrong with you if they want to.

Whatever hassles I went through as someone who looked like a "black ass" was nothing compared to what Chechens and others from the Caucasus suffered: murder and terror inside of Chechnya; harassment, discrimination, hatred nearly everywhere else in Russia and in friendly pro-Russian states.

The anti-Chechen hysteria in the fall of 1999 even swept through the Kyrgyz steppes, through Tokmok, where the Tsarnaevs were living. The father, Anzar Tsarnaev, was fired during the wave of anti-Chechen hysteria, even though Kyrgyzstan is also a Muslim country.

So again the family moved. In 2000, when Tamerlan was 15 and Dzhokhar was eight, the Tsarnaevs moved two thousand miles west to Dagestan, their mother’s homeland, next door to Chechnya. They moved to a place in the center of Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala, on the Caspian Sea — and the boys enrolled in School Number One.

Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, the boys’ mother, is an Avar, the most numerous of Dagestan’s 34 ethnic groups packed into the volatile Russian republic. Avars are nearly one-third of Dagestan’s 3 million residents. Avars have usually been the most powerful ethnic group in Dagestan. The next largest ethnic group, the Dargin, make up 17% of the population; while ethnic Chechens, who mostly live near Dagestan’s border with Chechnya, make up just three percent.

Avars were the first peoples in the North Caucasus to convert to Islam in the fourteenth century, hundreds of years before Chechens converted. Imam Shamil, the legendary 19th-century warrior who pinned down the Tsar’s forces for decades in the Caucasus, was an Avar. Many of Imam Shamil’s best fighters were Chechens, and his guerrilla base throughout most of his campaign was in the Chechen highlands, just beyond the village of Chiri-Yust where Tamerlan and his family briefly lived.

The Tsarnaevs moved to Dagestan on their way to the United States, where Anzar’s more successful brother, Ruslan Tsarni, was establishing himself. They lived in Makhachkala from 2000 through 2002, when most of the family made their way to the US, except for Tamerlan, who joined his family in the US a year later, in 2003. Makhachkala and Dagestan were hardly peaceful places those years. The violence in Chechnya was pouring over the border into Dagestan — terror bomb blasts and assassinations were a growing problem during the years 2000-2002 when the Tsarnaevs lived there, and radical Wahhabi Islam was changing the culture. Dagestanis were traditionally Sufi Muslims — more introspective, spiritual, and institutionalized than the new radical Salafist Islam. Sufi Islam had been largely forbidden until the late 1980s; but by the early 1990s, the Sufi muftis quickly became part of the corrupt official structures, creating an opening for disaffected Dagestanis to turn to the newer strains of Salafist Islam, or "Wahhabis" as they are usually called.

Dagestan’s radical Wahhabi power spread quickly in the mid-late 1990s. By 1998-9, the Wahhabis controlled several Dagestani villages and districts that bordered on Chechnya. When the Chechens and their Arab mercenaries, led by the Saudi Ibn al-Khattab, invaded Dagestan in 1999, sparking the second Russian invasion into Chechnya a month later, the idea was that they’d merge Wahhabi Dagestan with Wahhabi Chechnya, and form a single Islamic Emirate on the oil-rich Caspian Sea.

Despite the appeal of Wahhabi Islam in Dagestan — mostly to younger males from the Avar, Dargin, or Chechen ethnic groups — most Dagestanis rejected the Chechen invasion, and Wahhabis were forced to go underground.

To get a sense of how the violence and radicalism would have affected young Tamerlan and Dzhokhar during their stay in Dagestan from 2000 through 2002/3 — when Tamerlan would’ve been 15-17 years old, and Dzhokhar 8-10 — here is a brief list of terrorism incidents that would have shaped their world at that time:

  • March 28, 2000: Car bomb in Makhachkala injures Dagestan’s deputy prime minister and his driver
  • July 28, 2000: Gunmen assassinate a Dagestani police colonel in his car in a suburb of Makhachkala; two gunmen killed in the battle
  • August 6, 2000: Car bomb in Khassavyurt, Dagestan kills two women, injures three
  • August 29, 2000: 4 dead, 17 injured after rumors of a bomb scare set off a stampede in a crowded market in Khasavyurt, Dagestan
  • November 21, 2000: The leader of Dagestan’s ethnic Laks, Magomed Khachilaev, murdered outside his home in Makhachkala
  • May 31, 2001: "Everyone In Makhachkala Packs a Gun"writes Anna Badkhen of the Boston Globe.
  • June 8, 2001: Bomb in central Makhachkala targets Dagestan’s Minister for Nationalities, Information and External Affairs. [He survives, is killed 2 years later by Wahhabi militants.]
  • September 1, 2001: Powerful car bomb in Makhachkala nearly vaporizes its two occupants; pieces of car and passengers sent flying hundreds of meters away
  • November 1 2001: The deputy speaker of Dagestan assassinated in Makhachkala
  • November 5, 2001: Attempted assassination using rocket-propelled grenades on mayor of Makhachkala.
  • January 21, 2002: IED explosion in Makhachkala kills seven Russian soldiers in a column of trucks. Nadir Khachilaev, former Duma deputy and founder of a controversial mosque in Makhachkala, is arrested. The Wall Street Journal reports that in 1997, Al Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri was arrested in Dagestan by the Russian FSB as he tried to make his way into Chechnya, and was freed from prison by Nadir Khachilaev’s intervention (and Gulf funds at his disposal). Last year, Tamerlan Tsarnaev regularly attended the radical Salafist "Khachilaev Mosque" in Makhachkala.
  • January 23, 2002: Gunmen assassinate deputy mayor of Makhachkala and his wife
  • May Day Parade, 2002: Explosions kill 42 (almost half children) and injure over 130 in Kaspiysk, 10 miles south of Makhachkala, during the Victory Day parade celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany. The bomb blast, detonated by remote control, filled the main street with body parts, pools of blood, and twisted musical instruments. Numerous victims lost their limbs. [A video on LiveLeak shows the carnage, eerily reminiscent of the Boston Marathon bombing, only far bloodier.]

As bloody as that brief synopsis is for a small region like Dagestan, those years, 2000-2, were considered quiet by current Dagestan terrorism standards.

In neighboring Chechnya, where the Tsarnaevs still had (and have) many close relatives, the years 2000-2 saw some of the most horrific human rights violations in 20 years of Russian-Chechen warfare and occupation. During those years, some 250,000-plus Chechen refugees streamed into "filtration camps" in neighboring Ingushetia; Dagestan turned away Chechen refugees during Putin’s campaign. Instead, ethnic Chechen refugees in Dagestan like the Tsarnaevs were routinely subjected to harassment and potential deportations — and worse.

Thousands of Chechen civilians and suspected insurgents were murdered, kidnapped, illegally detained, and tortured.

Atrocities and mass interrogations took place in the area around the Tsarnaevs’ ancestral village, Chiri-Yurt, where aunts, uncles and cousins still live.

About 10 miles from Chiri-Yurt is the town of Urus-Martan, which became a hotspot for Wahhabi radicals and foreign jihadis in the second half of 1990s, and was the site of some of the worst abuses of the Russian occupation in the early 2000s. In the late 1990s, according to the Los Angeles Times, Urus-Martan was the "heart of the [kidnapping] industry" and home to one of the most notorious "slave markets" in de facto independent Chechnya. Dzhokhar Dudayev was killed by a Russian missile strike just outside of Urus-Martan in 1996. Today, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s sister and her husband’s relatives live there. Last year, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his father visited Urus-Martan on at least two occasions. According to the Moscow Times, Russian prosecutors investigating the mysterious 1999 apartment bombings claimed they found evidence of the explosives used to destroy the apartment buildings in both Urus-Martan and Chiri-Yurt. While the first apartment bombing in the fall of 1999 in Buinaksk, Dagestan, killing 68, was probably the work of Chechen and/or jihadi terrorists, there is strong evidence that the subsequent apartment blasts in Moscow that killed hundreds was the work of a faction within Russia’s secret services, operating on behalf of the Yeltsin "Family" clan and newly-appointed prime minister Vladimir Putin.

Urus-Martan was also the main base for the most violent faction of Wahhabi-inspired Chechen militants under Shamil Basayev, and foreign jihadis under Khattab. The invasion of Dagestan in 1999 was carried out largely by Chechen militants and foreign jihadis trained and stationed in Urus-Martan. As the New York Times reported,

Mr. Itslayev... is deputy editor of the Urus-Martan newspaper Marsho, or Freedom. He said the town's first Wahhabis arrived in 1997 — not from abroad, but from Dagestan, Khattab's onetime home. About 400 strong, they moved into Urus-Martan's Boarding School No. 16, built a mosque and began recruiting young people. "Some of the kids they recruited underwent three months of training in Khattab's camp in Serzhen-Yurt, and some went for six months," he said.

Note that Chiri-Yurt is located halfway between Urus-Martan and Serzhen-Yurt, each about 10 miles from the Tsarnaevs’ home village. Continuing,

Foreigners arrived only later, both Mr. Itslayev and Urus-Martan's deputy administrator, Mr. Goisultanov, said. "I saw myself Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Arabs, Azeris," Mr. Goisultanov said. "They had the most expensive cars — Lincolns, four-wheel drives — and the most expensive weapons, which even the Russians didn't have." 

The foreigners also had money, handing out $200 and automatic rifles to young Chechens who joined them. By mid-1998, civilian opponents were being murdered. In mid-1999, the foreign fighters staged a coup: Urus-Martan's militia was replaced by Wahhabis, and the civil court was abolished for a tribunal that adopted Shariah, the legal code of Islam based on the Koran. Girls were shooed from school and women were ordered to wear veils. Alcohol was banned. 

The group left Urus-Martan to join the August 1999 invasion of Dagestan, then returned to take power. By late 1999, he said, there were 2,000 Wahhabis; others estimated as many as 7,000. "Only one word would fit here," Mr. Itslayev said. "It was a mob."

After Russian forces and their local Chechen death squad allies took control, locals in Urus-Martan were subjected to a different form of terror:

"Two or three people are killed in Urus-Martan every night for the last one or two years," he said. "Innocent people are detained. Many disappear after they are arrested. And with most people, when they're found, they're corpses.

While Chiri-Yurt escaped the sort of total-war bombardment that the Tsarnaevs survived in 1995, the village still suffered the direct effects of Putin’s war and crackdown. Anna Politkovskaya, the murdered Novaya Gazeta journalist and anti-Chechnya War activist, described a scene she saw in Chiri-Yurt in 2001, when Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were living just 90 miles away in Dagestan:

As soon as you enter the former dormitory of the old cement factory in Chiri-Yurt, which has been turned into a refugee settlement, you hear wailing. A protracted half-animal monotone evoking the farthest reaches of despair. When these people find out that you’re a journalist, they cling to your clothing, your hands and feet, as if you were a magician, as if something essential depended on you, such as a gigantic truck with more than enough flour for everyone who is trying to survive. 

Chiri-Yurtans who earlier had taken children from the settlement into their homes to feed in the winter now turn away even infants and pregnant and nursing mothers. 

In this way, Chiri-Yurt, a beautiful, cozy little village in the foothills of the Caucasus, has turned into a cold, unpleasant settlement point, where bullets fly around like the wind. The key word is "point." A point for thousands of refugees to eat and sleep. A point of round-the-clock pain. Anything you like, except a place to live. 

"We can’t take everyone who comes to us, the way the law says to — we’re in no position to do so," says Adam Shakhgiriev, the head of migration services in Chiri-Yurt. "We can’t handle them. It’s a disaster for the village when eleven thousand displaced people are forced on our five thousand inhabitants. All of Duba-Yurt has descended upon us, all six thousand! And everyone is utterly demoralized. It’s hard to put up with these people. They’re all in terrible shape."

Last year, when Tamerlan and his father visited Chechnya, they spent time in two towns with relatives — Chiri-Yurt, and Urus-Martan. Why does this matter? Because everyone has been claiming that none of this matters, dumbing down a conversation that already started at a remarkably low baseline. Evoking the world that made the Tsarnaev brothers isn’t meant to prove that every Chechen is a Wahhabi terrorist; rather, it’s meant to show you a glimpse of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s reality, the world that shaped them. It’s a world totally alien to most of us — not a facile good/evil world, or a world made for weepy Spielberg films. Unfortunately, the people who know this world least of all are the same ones policing the conversation about the Boston Marathon bombings.


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