It’s not yet clear whether Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suspects in the Boston marathon attack, had any ties to al Qaeda. But by virtue of their heritage, they’re introducing the United States to one of the world’s most ruthless offshoots of radical Islam.
The Tsarnaev brothers had family roots in Chechnya, a state in southwest Russia that has long fought to win independence. Led by mujahedeen groups like the Islamic International Brigade, Chechen Muslims have waged two unsuccessful wars against Russia in an attempt to break away.
When these efforts failed, Chechen Muslim terrorists staged two of the most spectacular and brutal terror attacks in modern history.
In October 2002, 50 Chechen terrorist aligned with militant Islam invaded a theater in Russia, taking 850 hostages. Russian forces eventually stormed the theater and attempted to gain an advantage by using poison gas. But the move backfired, and the gas killed 130. All of the terrorists are believed to have been killed.
Then, in 2004, Chechen terrorist stormed a grammar school in Beslan, a town in the Russian province North Ossetia. They took 1,100 people hostage, including 777 children. After three days, Russian forces attacked, resulting in the deaths of 334, including 186 children.
Whether the Tsarnaev brothers had any ties to Chechen separatist groups has not been determined, although it’s clear that the Chechen struggle against Russia served, at the least, as an inspiration. In a number of Internet forums, Tamerlan, the older brother, sympathized with Chechen causes.
Tamerlan had also posted YouTube videos praising al Qaeda, although the account’s authenticity has not yet been confirmed. And according to breaking news reports Friday afternoon, Tamerlan had traveled internationally last year, although the purpose of that travel is not yet clear.
Meanwhile, the brothers’ Uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, a Chechnyan national who has been living successfully in the U.S. for a number of years, told television reporters, “I say Dzhokhar, if you’re alive, turn yourself in and ask for forgiveness from the victims. … He [Dzhokhar] put a shame on our family; he put a shame on the entire Chechnyan ethnicity.”