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What Are The Roots Of Tsarnaev's Murder Spree?

By James S. Robbins
USA Today
April 21, 2013

The apprehension of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ends a five day reign of terror in the Boston area. Taking him alive allows authorities the opportunity to find answers to critical questions surrounding the deadly April 15 Boston marathon bombing. Most important of this is, why did Dzhokhar and his brother Tamarlan allegedly do it?

Attention has focused on the Tsarnaev brothers' Chechen background. Chechnya, a semi-autonomous Russian republic, has been a hotbed of terrorist violence for two decades, and has suffered two devastating wars to squelch its separatist movement. But it is unlikely that the accused brothers Tsarnaev believed they were striking a blow for Chechen independence by killing innocent Americans. The United States is not a player in that war. Rather, it is more likely that the brothers were in the grip of the same radical Islamist ideology that has inspired other domestic terrorists such as Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistan-born Times Square bomber. This was not Chechen terror coming to America but jihadist terror, which has become a more prominent part of the Chechen conflict in recent years.

It is premature to call this home-grown terrorism since there are hints of foreign ties. The FBI had questioned Tamarlan in 2011 at the request of a foreign government, probably Russia, perhaps because he was corresponding with radicals abroad through the internet. This was the case with Nidal Hassan, who committed the Fort Hood massacre in 2009. Tamarlan had an in-person opportunity for such contacts when he visited Russia last year. A critical part of the investigation will be putting together the pieces that point to possible involvement by foreign terrorist organizations or movements.

If the attack was not home-grown, the question is why their adoptive home did not grow on the brothers more. "I don't have a single American friend," Tamarlan once said. "I don't understand them." The Tsarnaev family came to the United States as refugees, fleeing the brutal strife that had engulfed their ancestral region. America afforded them a degree of safety and freedom they had never previously known. The brothers seemed to be at least trying to fit in. But though they lived in this country for over a decade, something happened that left them seized with a seething resentment against the United States. Their uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, described them as "losers" who felt "hatred to those who were able to settle themselves." This type of resentment is harnessed by radical groups who recruit young people and nurture their anger, eventually channeling it into violence. Usually there is a trusted guide or spiritual leader who, if not directly complicit, at least nudges the nascent terrorists along the way. "Someone radicalized them," Mr. Tsarni alleged, though he did not know who.

Investigators will focus on these types of questions. Were the brothers operating on their own or did they have local or international assistance? Did they formulate the idea for the attack or was it suggested to them? How did they come by the weapons they used? And what did they intend to accomplish through this mayhem? No doubt they saw themselves as fighters in a cause greater than themselves. But in the end, if the brothers are guilty, they were simply maladjusted young men, captive of an ideology of death, who have come to separate and bitter ends.

James Robbins, a senior fellow in national security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, is deputy editor of Rare and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.

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Related Categories: Terrorism; Radical Islam; Central Asia Counterterrorism Project; Caucasus

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