Chechen rebels see anomalies in Boston attack

With Boston under "lockdown" and a manhunt underway, leaders of the Chechen insurgency issued a statement April 19 casting doubt on police claims that the two suspects in the Marathon bombing—young brothers of Chechen origin—carried out the attacks. The official media arm of the Chechen mujahedeen, the Kavkaz Center, published a blog post that suggested a frame-up as part of a "PR campaign" to discredit the insurgency. The statement mocked the "lightning speed" at which the two suspects were identified, and called the investigation "completely muddled." From a translation by NBC News: "The news that the brothers attacked police officers, carjacked a man and did an array of other things, instead of going into hiding, looks strange at the very least." The statement argued that the younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was "very far from your typical 'Islamic terrorist.' He named career and money as his main credo. What's more, he just logged onto his Russian social networking site a few hours ago." Indeed, an overview of the young man's Twitter and other social media posts on AtlanticWire notes that he listed his "personal priority" as "career and money"—but his "worldview" as "Islam." He also made some ominously foreshadowing tweets, including "I will die young."

Ramzan Kadyrov, "official" president of the Russian republic of Chechnya, also released a statement on the suspects, denying that they had been radicalized by the insurgency in his country: "Any attempts to link Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs, if indeed they are guilty, are futile. They grew up in the USA, their viewpoints and beliefs were formed there. You must seek the roots of [their] evil in America." (WP)

As I write, reports are breaking that an arrest is undreway in the Boston suburb of Watertown. Dzhokhar, 19, was the remaining suspect still at large. His brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died overnight after being shot a fire-fight with police that also left an MIT officer dead and apparently saw use of explosives by the brothers. Coverage has been scattershot. NBC News' Pete Williams said the two suspects likely had "foreign military training," and had been in the country for only a year. He aso inaccurately specualted they were from Turkey. As more information broke, multiple sources reported that the brothers were both of Chechen background; Dzhokhar was born in Kyrgyzstan and Tamerlan in Russia. (Buzzfeed, April 19) It also emerged that they had been in the US for several years, and engaged in typical un-Islamic behavior of American youth. A high school classmate told the Daily News that Dzhokhar was an "ordinary kid" who "smoked weed [and] drank a lot."

The Internet conspir-o-sphere has of course been even more reckless with the facts and off-the-wall speculation. In a video posted this morning, the reliably wacky Alex Jones of course flirts with a Jewish conspiracy theory, opining that the two suspects might be Israelis. Claiming he had identified the suspect who remained at large, Jones boasted, "the media doesn't even have this yet. The FBI will probably give it to them in a day." In fact, media identified the two suspects just two or three hours later. And despite his claims to know the identity of the suspect, Jones mused baselessly: "These guys kind of look like Israelis. I'm not saying Israel is involved in it, we don't have any evidence of that. It's just that they kind of look Israeli." He added that they could be "North African" or "Spanish-Muslims." He did not speculate they were Chechens. He also called MIT, where the suspects were apparently first tracked down, "mind control central." (Salon)

Despite such nonsense, there are actual anomalies that may be worthy of consideration. The United Arab Emirates' Gulf News also offered an account at odds with the consensus emerging in the US media. The brothers, who were legal residents of the US, reportedly tried to rob a convenience store near the MIT campus in Cambridge late last night. They then went to the campus, killed a security officer there in a first shoot-out, made their getaway in a carjacked vehicle, and were chased down by police (a mixed force of Boston cops, Massachusetts state police and FBI, according to an eye-witness account), precipitating the second fire-fight, in which Tamerlan was shot and Dzhokhar escaped on foot. Why would they rob a convenience store if they were trying to disappear?

(All Things Considered just reported that police are now saying the convenience store heist was unrelated; the brothers had dropped off the driver of the car they hijacked at the 7-11, but the hold-up was either carried out later by others, or didn't happen—still unclear.)

Gulf News also cited an interview with Russia's Interfax agency in which a man who identified himself as the father of the brothers, Anzor Tsarnaev, insisted his sons were innocent: "In my opinion, my children were set up by the secret services because they are practicing Muslims."

CNN footage online at World Star Hip Hop features an interview with the brothers' mom in which she none-too-coherently asserts both that her sons were innocent and had no dealings with jihadists, but also that the FBI had been closely monitoring on them ("controlling every step" of the elder son, she says) for years. She does say the elder son "got involved in religious politics" five years ago. YouTube shows a CNN interview with the suspects' aunt, in which she says "they couldn't have done this," asserts that the photos identifying them at the scene of the blasts were "staged," and darkly refers to conspirators who arranged the set-up "for some purpose." She tells reporters: "Why don't you do the math?"

(Chechens have good reason to be paranoid. Readers will recall that the 1999 apartment block bombings in Moscow and two other Russian cities did for Putin what 9-11 did for Bush, igniting a new war with Chechnya, propelling the hardline Putin into the Kremlin—and sparking a frenzy of conspiracy theories.)

However, the uncle of suspects, Ruslan Tsarni, made a public appeal for Dzhokhar to surrender, stating: "If you're alive, turn yourself in and ask for forgiveness from the victims, from the injured… ask forgiveness from these people." Tsarni added: "He put shame on our family. He put shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity." (Metro UK)


  1. No Miranda rights for bombing suspect?
    Politico reports that the Justice Department is invoking a “public safety exception” and will not be reading Dzhokar Tsarnaev his Miranda rights. On top of the utterly draconian police-enforced “lockdown” of almost the entire Boston metro area, this sets a pretty terrifying precedent. (And makes a mockery of all the relentless talk about how the terrorists aren’t going to change our way of life.) Bizarrely, this is protested by, of all people, Alan Dershowitz, who told CNN: “The FBI is making a serious mistake by not giving him his Miranda warning….Let’s not give him any excuse to be able to successfully argue that his rights were denied.”

    1. “Enemy combatant” status for Boston suspect?
      This is probably going nowhere, but still very dangerous. From Huff Post, April 20:

      Republican lawmakers issued a statement Saturday urging President Barack Obama to treat Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, as an “enemy combatant.”

      Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Tsarnaev “clearly is a good candidate for enemy combatant status” in a statement posted to Graham’s website.

      “We do not want this suspect to remain silent,” the lawmakers said in their statement…

      “A decision to not read Miranda rights to the suspect was sound and in our national security interests,” the lawmakers said.

      “We do not want this suspect to remain silent.” Is that to be interpreted as an OK for torture?

    2. “Public safety exception” to Miranda?
      Apparently there is a legal precedent for this—just barely. This statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights:

      While it is difficult to turn to points of law in times of tragedy, those are, in fact, the times we most need to cling to the values, laws and rights that make us who we are as a nation.

      The Miranda warnings were put in place because police officers were beating and torturing “confessions” out of people who hadn’t even been formally accused of a crime. We cannot afford to repeat our mistakes. If officials require suspects to incriminate themselves, they are making fair trials and due process merely option and not a requirement. To venture down that road again will make law enforcement accountable to no one.

      Like Obama’s expanded killing program and his perpetuation of indefinite detention without trial at Guantanamo, this is yet another erosion of the Constitution to lay directly at the President’s feet. Obama’s Justice Department unilaterally expanded the “public safety exception” to Miranda in 2010 beyond anything the Supreme Court ever authorized. Each time the administration use this exception, it stretches wider and longer. However horrific the crime, continuing to erode constitutional rights invites continued abuse by law enforcement, and walks us down a dangerous path that becomes nearly impossible to reverse.

      The FBI website informs us that the Supreme Court created this exception in a 1980 case, concerning a rape suspect who was chased down in a grocery store in Queens and was questioned about a firearm believed to be his possession—before his arrest, and when the whereabouts of his gun actually made a difference to public safety. Slate informs us Obama expanded the exception in the 2010 case of attempted Times Square bomber Shahzad Faisal. And now again, it has been invoked as an “exception” after the arrest, when the suspect is already in the complete control of the authorities.

      This is just wrong, Obama. C’mon, you’re a freaking law professor. You know it is.

      1. Dzhokhar talked for 16 hours before he was read his rights
        From Slate, April 25:

        According to the AP, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev answered questions for 16 hours before he was read the Miranda warning that he could remain silent and could ask for a lawyer. Once Tsarnaev was told that, he stopped talking. (So much for the idea that everyone has heard Miranda warnings so many times on TV that they have become an empty ritual.) The AP also reports that the investigators questioning him were “surprised when a magistrate judge and a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s office entered the hospital room.” The investigators “had planned to keep questioning him.”

    3. Police state Boston
      As we were all supposed to be cheering on the police in Boston, this is what was going on… Police and federal agents spent the “lockdown” period storming residents’ homes and performing illegal searches. In this YouTube footage, police were filmed “ripping people from their homes at gunpoint, marching the residents out with their hands raised in submission, and then storming the homes to perform their illegal searches…”

      1. Michael Bloomberg: freedom-hater
        There he goes again. Hizzoner’s reaction to the Boston terror, via the NYT:

        We have to understand that in the world going forward, we’re going to have more cameras and that kind of stuff. That’s good in some senses, but it’s different than what we are used to. And the people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry, but we live in a complex world where you’re going to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution I think have to change.

        How helpful.

  2. FBI interviewed Boston bombing suspect two years ago
    OK, so the brothers’ mom was right. The FBI actually had made note of them. From CBS News, April 19: 

    The FBI admitted Friday they interviewed the now-deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years ago and failed to find any incriminating information about him.

    As first reported by CBS News correspondent Bob Orr, the FBI interviewed Tsarnaev, the elder brother of at-large bombing suspect Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, at the request of a foreign government to see if he had any extremist ties, but failed to find any linkage.

    Both Tsarnaev brothers were legal permanent residents of the U.S. There is no evidence so far that either brother received any tactical training.

    CBS News correspondent John Miller reports it is likely Russia asked to have the elder Tsarnaev vetted because of suspected ties to Chechen extremists.

    The FBI is likely to have run a background check, running his name through all the relevant databases, including those of other agencies, checking on his communications and all of his overseas travel. Miller reports that culminated in a sit-down interview where they probably asked him a lot of questions about his life, his contacts, his surroundings. All of this was then written in a report and sent it to the requesting government.

    This is an issue they’ve had in the past. They interviewed Carlos Bledsoe in Little Rock, Ark., before he shot up an Army recruiting station in 2009. They were also looking into Major Hasan Nadal before the Fort Hood shootings.

    However, the FBI has maintained in those incidents that they took all the steps they were asked to and were allowed to under the law.

    Although the FBI initially denied contacting Tsarnaev, the brothers’ mother said they had in an interview with Russia Today.

    Zubeidat Tsarnaeva [sp?] said her son got involved in “religious politics” about five years ago, and never told her he was involved in “jihad.”

    She insisted the FBI “knew what he was doing on Skype” and that they counseled him “every step of the way.”

    Sorry I called you incoherent, Mrs. Tsarnaev. My bad!

    1. Debka weighs in on Boston
      Every Internet conspiranoid outfit has got its pet theory about the Boston attacks. Israel’s Debka, the great grand-daddy of them all (although generally favoring Islamist rather than Jewish conspiracy theories, for obvious reasons), tell us the “Tsarnaev brothers were double agents who decoyed US into terror trap.” They had been recruited by US and Saudi intelligence to infiltrate the Chechen resistance—which the US and Saudis had previously supported but feared was out of control. But the brothers “betrayed their mission and went secretly over to the radical Islamist networks.”

      As usual, the claim is presented as fact, yet it is based on vague anonymous sources that cannot be verified. Strikes us as extremely unlikely. And what purpose is served by this endless theorizing? Oh, that’s right. Website hits, translating into ad revenue.

      Silly us.

    2. Suspects’ mom speaks out on FBI monitoring
      In comments apparenly first made to Russia Today and picked up by The Guardian and NPR,  Zubeidat Tsarnaeva said that the FBI had spoken to the family regularly: “They were telling me that Tamerlan was really an extremist leader and they were afraid of him. They told me whatever information he is getting, he gets from these extremists’ sites.” She added that the police were monitoring her son “at every step.”

  3. Still getting your news from social media?
    From AP, April 20:

    A number of comments by Americans on social media mistaking the Czech Republic for the country of origin of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects— ethnic Chechen brothers — prompted the Czech ambassador to the United States to act.

    In a statement posted on the embassy Web site, Petr Gandalovic said “the Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities — the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation.”

    Gandalovic calls it “a most unfortunate misunderstanding,” but some responses on Twitter are less diplomatic.

    Mirca Sekerova recommends Americans “open a geography book once in a while…stop blaming our country for this.”

    And Petr Manda commented: “Well done, U.S. education system.”

  4. Dagestan link in Boston terror?
    The Guardian reports that the Tsarnaev brothers grew up mainly in Kyrgyzstan before coming to the US in 2002, spenidng a few months in between in Makhachkala, Dagestan. Last year, Tamerlan spent several months back in Dagestan, for unclear reasons—the implication being that he had terrorist contacts there. But this is vigorously denied by family and neighbors, who describe the brothers in such terms as “usual kids.” They also say that family members frequently traveled to see friends and kin in Dagestan and Chechnya. 

    Restive Dagestan is still denied norms of self-government for Russian republics. Lawmakers in Dagestan region voted this week to cancel popular elections for governor and allow President Vladimir Putin to choose its next leader. A new law signed by Putin allows Russian republics to scrap elections, which were restored last year under Putin’s predecessor, Dmitri Medvedev. Dagestan is the first republic to opt out of the elections. Putin says the law is needed to ward off ethnic strife over conested elections. (NYT, April 19)

    Meanwhile, Kavkaz Center, voice of the Chechen resistance, is reprinting conspiranoia from Alex Jones’ InfoWars about how a military contractor ominously called “The Craft” was on the scene at the Marathon with radiation detectors and backpacks matching those used by the suspects…

  5. Whither Craft International?
    Well, so far the only “mainstream” media that have made note of the allegations about Craft International is the Washington Times on its blogish “Communities” page, which seems to have merely regurgitated Alex Jones’ scribblings. Apart from that, it is just other exponents of the conspiranoid echo chamber, who use headlines like “LOOK ! Proof That Craft or Blackwater Agents did the Boston Marathon Bombing Event!” We’d like to know who took the pictures of these black-unformed dudes (and if their backpacks really do match those of the suspects). We’d like an actual journalist to ask city, state and federal authorities who hired them and for what purpose.

    But alas this is not happening. The mainstream media is simply ignoring the question, while conspiranoids typically discredit themselves by engaging in roll-your-own theorizing, and peddling their specious consclusions as dogma. At this rate, we’re never going to get to the bottom of this particular mystery…

  6. David Pakman debunks Alex Jones’ Boston conspiracy theory
    In a piece picked up by Addicting Info, vlogger David Pakman does a good job of exposing Alex Jones’ distortions and clearing the air on the “Craft International” allegations…

    Thanks, David. A dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

    1. Bloggers debunk Alex Jones’ Boston conspiracy theory

      Glimmers of rationality on a paranomal-oriented website, The Minority Report—of all places. An anonymous blogger there has done some painstaking research to determine (plausibly) that the mysterious uniformed dudes are not from Craft International, but the Massachusetts Army National Guard's 1st Civil Support Team (CST), with back-up from the New York and Rhode Island Guards' CSTs. And placing the photos in context, s/he nails down that the troops were still holding their black backpacks after the blasts. S/he adds, "therefore we can put that rumor to rest as well."

      Update: Conspiranoids later (illogically) jumped on a June 8, 2013 report in the Boston Globe that the city police had planned an exercise dubbed "Operation Urban Shield" for two months after the actual attacks. Eerily, under the scenario, backpacks filled with explosives would be left at Faneuil Hall, the Seaport District, and other tourist spots. But it was not (repeat: not) timed for the Marathon. From the report: "The hypothetical terrorist group was even given a name: Free America Citizens, a home-grown cadre of militiamen whose logo would be a metal skull wearing an Uncle Sam hat and a furious expression, according to a copy of the plans obtained by the Boston Globe. But two months before the training exercise was to take place, the city was hit with a real terrorist attack executed in a frighteningly similar fashion."

      The exercise was cancelled. "The real thing happened before we were able to execute," a law enforcement official told the Globe. "We've already been tested."