Chechnya is home to some of the deadliest militant groups in the world, though so far they have primarily remained in Muslim countries. Chechnyan terrorist groups targeting the U.S. would represent a frightening new front.
Then it started to look like these suspects might not be linked to any Chechnyan groups.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov denies any link: "Any attempt to draw a connection between Chechnya and Tsarnaevs — if they are guilty — is futile."
The suspects' uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, also denies that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarni represent the "peaceful" Chechen people in any way.
Neither of the brothers spent much if any time living in Chechnya.
Tamerlan, who was killed on Thursday night, made some anti-American comments and liked some jihadist videos on YouTube but only occasionally talked about Chechnya, like when he liked a hardliner Chechen rebel video.
Dzhokhar tweeted occasionally in support of Chechnya (e.g. "proud to be from #chechnya" and "i hold my own i got that #chechnyanpower").
Of course it's not clear that the brothers, if guilty, were acting alone.
In any case, let's hope they aren't linked to established Chechen militants. Here's why:
A predominantly-Muslim country, Chechnya has been a mess for decades and a big thorn in Russia's side.
It declared independence in 1991 in a military coup, and though the de facto leader, former Soviet general Dzhokhar Dudayev was popular, problems sprang up immediately. The country divided along sectarian lines, and many non-Chechen's (Russians, Ukranians, Albanians) fled, citing violent discrimination. Soon civil war broke out. Then the trouble began spilling across into Russia.
Russian troops invaded in 1994 — leading to a brutal and bloody counter-insurgency. The invasion of a Muslim country also gave the global call of militant Jihad to foreign fighters.
The battles intensified with a steady influx of grizzled Arab fighters, armed to the teeth and educated in the ways of guerilla warfare.
While Russians have responded brutally too, the Chechen militants are thought to be responsible for some terrible attacks on civilians, culminating in a 2004 attack on a Russian school that left more than 300 dead. You can read a list of other major attacks at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Although attacks on civilians have declined since 2004, the Russians do not seem to be winning the war.
From the Economist:
After two decades of political and military failure in this violent part of the world, the government in Moscow is losing its legitimacy there, and fundamentalist Islam, which had no purchase in Soviet days, has taken hold.
The U.S. State Department identifies the Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade and the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment among various terrorist groups in Chechyna, according to CFR. Al-Qaeda also appears to be expanding its activity there.
American troops have also had run-ins with Chechans in combat.
Several Marines who encountered Chechans in Iraq and Afghanistan told Business Insider they were some of the most well-trained and formidable fighters.
"They can scrap. We came across a couple in Ramadi [Iraq]," one Marine told BI on condition of anonymity. "They don't give a f---, [they] would blow an IED at a market. Kids, civilians, doesn't matter."
One Marine put it simply, "If we get sucked into the Chechnyan conflict, we're gonna have a bad time."
Again, however, there is no sign that the Tsarnaevs were linked to Chechen militants, nor that Chechen militants are active outside of Muslim countries. Let's hope it stays that way.
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