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)