April 20, 2013

April 20, 2013 | Commentary on Terrorism

Motive May Lie in Chechen Ties

While unconfirmed as of this writing, it’s within the realm of possibility that there’s some sort of connection between the Boston Marathon bombers and international Islamist terrorism, including the likes of al-Qaeda.

True, we don’t know at this point what motivated two young men to undertake these despicable acts of terror against innocents, but potential ties to a place in the Caucasus region of Russia called Chechnya may give us a clue as the story unfolds.

It turns out the Boston bombers have Chechen heritage.

While most Americans have never heard of Chechnya, it’s been a source of instability, violence and terror for some two decades now, going back to the end of the Soviet Union and a Chechen independence drive.

Chechen terror groups, targeting Russian interests, have been responsible for some of the most infamous acts of terror in terrorism’s sad and sordid history.

For instance, in 2002, Chechen terror groups stormed Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater, where some 700 people were attending a performance. In the rescue attempt by Russian security forces, more than 100 people perished.

In 2004, in the largest hostage-taking in history, Chechens stormed the Beslan school in Russia. They held more than 1,000 students and teachers, including nearly 800 children, for three days. The crisis ended with more than 300 dead.

A few years later in 2010, two female Chechen suicide bombers (sometimes known as “Black Widows”) struck the Moscow subway system during rush hour. The bombs killed nearly 40 people and injured another 100.

Chechen terrorists have also reportedly attacked government offices, apartment buildings, shopping malls, military parades, airports, and even trains in Russia.

Worse, some analysts believe Chechen terror groups have ties to al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden’s fighters (and others) have been drawn to the Chechen Islamist “cause” for years and fought on the Chechen side in its bloody conflict with Russia.

Chechens fought alongside the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan when U.S. forces intervened after 9/11. More recently, it was reported that in 2011 a senior al-Qaeda commander was killed in Chechnya by Russian forces.

Despite all of these potential ties to the dark world of terrorism, at this point we still don’t know what drove these particular men to do the evil they did. What was their purpose?

Was it their idea alone or did someone at home or abroad — even on the Internet — radicalize them to undertake these horrible deeds? Where did they learn to make those powerful bombs?

It’s certainly possible the attack had nothing to do with Chechnya, Islam, al-Qaeda or the global Islamist militant movement. There are so many questions that sorely need to be answered.

The one thing we do know is that we’re very likely in dangerous, uncharted territory — and that right alongside terrorism, nothing may be more dangerous right now than the risk of complacency to the terror threat.

-Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy

First appeared in Boston Herald.