By Robert Kittle
The motive of the brothers that investigators say are responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings could be religious, or could be based on the ongoing conflict in the region of Russia they came from, according to University of South Carolina experts.
Police Friday night captured 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Police killed his brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, during a shootout Friday morning. The brothers are originally from the Russian region of Dagestan, which is near Chechnya, but have lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years.
Chechnya fought two wars for independence from Russia in the 1990s and lost, but violence and terrorist attacks continue in the region. Most are blamed on Islamic militants who say they want to create an Islamic state.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev posted on a Russian social media site similar to Facebook links to Islamic websites and those calling for Chechen independence.
Mathieu Deflem, a professor at the University of South Carolina who's an expert on counter-terrorism and has studied the Chechen conflict, says, “I think at this time that we shouldn't look at this as a case of organized terrorism coming out of Chechnya,” although he says that could be the case. “So that leads me to the second scenario, that this is more a home-grown situation in the United States, but then within the particular background of these young people.”
That background is not feeling like they belong in the United States, even though they've lived here for more than a decade, but not having much of a memory of living in Russia. The motive could also be Islamic radicalism, he says.
“They've been saying certain things that, indeed, latch on to this Islamic identity that they have. But they've also said certain things like, there was a school essay that one of the two brothers has written and it talks about, you know, 'I don't feel like an American. I don't feel I fit in. I don't understand the Americans.'”
Fellow USC professor Alex Ogden is director of the university's Russian and Eurasian studies program. He says even though the brothers seemed to identify with radical Islam, he's not convinced that's the motive for the bombings.
“I think if, in fact, the terrorism angle is what this is about, which it seems likely, in some way it must be linked to the Chechen conflict,” he says.
Despite that, he and Deflem agree that motive would be hard to understand because the U.S. was not involved in the wars in Chechnya and, if anything, supported Chechen independence.
Deflem says, “When we try to make sense of terrorism, we shouldn't forget we're trying to make sense of something that doesn't make sense. You know, after all, they thought it was a good idea to develop these explosives to kill and wound innocent people.”