Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Motives of the Boston Bombers

Now that the Brothers Tsarnaev have either been caught or killed, thereby giving the residents of Boston some relief, the next topic of discussion in this saga is patently clear: the motives of the bombers. In fact, already, quite a bit of ink has been spilled on this topic. Unfortunately, much of the discussion, especially on television, has centered on wild speculation, worst-case scenarios, fear-mongering.

Let's take a deep breath, at least for a moment. Perhaps that will help. For at this point, we need clear-eyed analysis to focus on what the facts, not our biases and prejudices, tell us.

Sure, the brothers committed a terrorist act, insofar as they terrorized millions of Americans. But are their actions actually terrorism? Honestly, it's not certain that they are. Terrorism denotes political motives. Based on what we know right now, were the Tsarnaevs politically motivated to kill Americans? At this point, we don't know.

The Chechnya angle has been repeatedly mentioned, since the brothers are ethnic Chechens. If you recall, Chechnya has been a war-torn territory for decades, a hotbed for violence and Muslim terror groups. Not surprisingly, American talking heads are already on the prowl for any evidence to prove the brothers are international Jihadis. What's been lost in this loose talk is that an overwhelming majority of Chechen extremists are militants who seek to retaliate against Russian in response to Moscow's vice-like grip over the country. If the Tsarnaevs thought of themselves as freedom fighters, they would likely target the Russian embassy or Russian officials stationed in the U.S.

So maybe, after all, they were Jihadis, plugged, in some way, into the wider network of anti-Western, anti-American terror groups. Keep in mind, though, only a sliver of Chechen extremists terrorists are Jihadis. Put simply, kicking out the Russians and the Russian puppets trumps any ideas of building a regional caliphate. Moreover, the evidence tying the brothers to this community, such as the older brother's visit to Russia last year, is so far circumstantial at best. That said, it's possible that the brothers fit within this category, though it's not certain. We need more evidence to surface.

We also can't rule out that only one of the brothers was/is a committed Jihadi. If true, given that the younger brother, Dzhokhar, is still at an impressionable age and possibly looked up to his older brother, I'd suspect that the older brother, Tamerlan, became radicalized and then roped his younger brother into his violent schemes.

In the end, the Tsarneavs could simply be two disaffected guys who took out their frustrations and demons out on innocents, with no political angle to their actions. Remember, people commit all sorts of violence for non-political reasons; there is no reason to assume they were politically inclined actors. If so, their crimes would be similar to the Sandy Hook or Columbine tragedies.

In the meantime, let's give the authorities a chance do their jobs, let the facts emerge, and then see what kinds of conclusions can be made about the motives of the Tsarnaevs. There's no need to rush to judgment. Let's get the full and correct story. For only then can we generate the proper lessons learned and implement the appropriate security measures.

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