Chechnya war comes to Boston —or not?

Commentary on the Boston attacks is making for some strange permutations. Voices on the left are seeking to play down jihadist involvement in the Chechen struggle—or to portray it as the result of US intrigues, with the obvious analogy to Afghanistan and al-Qaeda itself. Michael Moore's website sports a piece by FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley entitled "Chechen Terrorists and the Neocons," calling out figures such as Richard Perle for backing an "American Committee for Peace in Chechnya" as a lobby for the armed struggle against Russia—the name later "sanitized" to the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus.

Meanwhile, the right of course plays up the jihadist threat in the Caucasus. But this reveals a divide between the Cold War paleocon right and the neocon right that came of age in the Global War on Terrorism. According to PowerBase wiki, one predictable member of the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus is Richard Pipes, Russophobe battle-axe of the beltway elite. His son, professional Islamophobe Daniel Pipes, is in an equivocal position. He plays up the generic Islamic menace angle, but not the Chechen one. Thanking Big Brother for the ubiquitous surveillance that snared the suspects, he warns that those conniving Muslims have less than spiritual reasons to hide their faces: "Boston Bombing Lesson: Ban Niqabs and Burqas." But nothing about al-Qaeda in Chechnya. Contrast his stance on Syria, where he is so afraid of al-Qaeda that he urges: "Support Assad."

The more reliably neocon American Enterprise Institute's Leon Aron looks at the North Caucasus and warns of "the region's deep ties with al-Qaeda." The very neocon Jewish Policy Center summarily dismisses the notion that people like the Tsarnaev brothers are "lone wolves," insisting that "All Terrorism is Connected." Fox News tells us: "Before Boston, warning signs Chechen extremists were plotting beyond Russia":

Of particular interest is a group formed in 2007 called the Caucasus Emirate, led by Doku Umarov. Two sources tell Fox News that investigators are exploring potential links between Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspect who died in a shootout early Friday in Boston, and the group — though the organization has publicly distanced itself from the plot. Fox News is told that the Caucasus Emirate, designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department in 2011, is one of several groups being investigated. 

Doku Umarov has claimed responsibility for a string of terror attacks in Russia. Conserva-blogger Ruth King seems to have established a—very, very tenuous—link between the Tsarnaev borthers and Umarov's network:

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother, linked his YouTube page to another video entitled "The Emergence of Prophecy:The Black Flags From Khorasan." The video, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, was reported in October 2011. It was sent by a terrorist group from the Afghan-Pakistan region, identified as the "Caucasus Mujahideen in Khorasan, to their 'brothers' in the Islamic Caucasus Emirate and their emir, Doku Umarov."

In the more patrician Foreign AffairsCharles King also makes note of Umarov:

So far, however, there is no direct information linking the North Caucasus to the attack in Boston; armed groups in the region, including the Dagestani branch of the so-called Caucasus Emirate—the jihadist network in the North Caucasus headed by Chechen warlord Doku Umarov—issued a formal statement denying any connection to the Tsarnaev brothers. The jihadists claimed instead that the brothers were pawns in an elaborate attempt by Russian security services to turn American opinion against the North Caucasus underground and against Muslims more generally. That might be far-fetched, but it would hardly be the line of argument the Emirate would pursue if it were suddenly using American operatives to expand attacks outside of Russia. The logical thing would have been for the Emirate to claim responsibility.

Yes, we have also noted this conspiracy theory. The stance of Moscow's state-controlled Russia Today provides an inevitable irony. Because it is an "anti-America" outlet, RT is very cozy with the left in the West—the network even made the astute move of giving Julian Assange his own show. But of course RT has got to toe Kremlin line on Chechnya—which puts them in line with the neocons! Writes RT's Sergey Strokan in a piece entitled "Hear no evil see no evil: Boston awakens sleeping US to Chechen danger":

It took…an attack in the shape of the Boston bombings for many Americans to discover that Chechen militants—those, who are attacking innocent civilians, can be something other than "rebels" or "freedom fighters."

And while terrorism knows no nationality, Chechen militants, regardless of whether they operate in Russia or America, deserve the word "terrorists."

The investigation into the Boston attack is still in its infancy, with no credible proof in the public domain linking the two Boston attackers to the Islamist terrorist movement thousands of miles away… The only fact so far which may grow into a bigger story is that in 2011 the Russian government approached the FBI about one of the brothers Tamerlan Tsarnayev, requesting a check on his contacts. At that time the Russians said Tamerlan Tsarnayev "was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups."

In a BBC roundup of Russian coverage, Mikhail Rostovsky of the popualr daily Moskovsky Komsomolets is quoted:

Al-Qaeda appeared as a result of Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in 1979. Moscow resorted to the move fearing that Afghanistan would become a zone of US influence. Washington tried hard to prompt the USSR to intervene in Afghanistan, wanting its geopolitical rival to sink in the mire of a war that was impossible to win. Striving to harm on [sic] another, we harmed ourselves… That is why after the tragedy in Boston I cannot but keep wondering whether Russian-US relations will change for the better? Will the US leadership finally get over "the Richard Pipes syndrome", the hidden preconception that they are countering "bad" terrorism whereas Russia is fighting "good" terrorism? Or are some preconceptions so strong that they do not disappear, even if their own citizens' blood is shed?

Then there are the ironies of nomenclature which are sure to cause cognitive collisions. In the US, "Caucasian" is a synonym for "white"—rooted in the erroneous idea that the original Indo-European homeland was in the Caucasus (it is now thought to have been on the steppes, north of the mountains). In Russia, a "Caucasian" is someone from the Caucasus—a group stigmatized as insufficiently white. You know, they are swarthy, Muslim, traitors during the long wars with the Turks, shiftless shirkers who smell of onions and garlic… And the popular pejorative for them is (you guessed it) "black."

And what is going on with 19-year-old, gravely wounded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? The Boston Herald and Washington Post tell us he has not been formally charged with "terrorism," but with using a "weapon of mass destruction." OK, it may be for the best that the Justice Department is avoiding the loaded T-word (inevitably conjuring al-Qaeda connections, which may or may not exist)—but isn't there something perverse about calling devices improvised from pressure cookers "weapons of mass destruction"? This is an egregious Orwellian abuse of the English language that we have called out again and again and again and again and again and again. And we will point out that it hasn't only been used in cases against accused jihadists, but also against radical right rednecks

Finally, a check in with the conspiranoia set. A blogger on Daily Kos took note of a viral post on the conspiranoid 21st Century Wire entitled "Bomber suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev appears to be alive, naked and handcuffed." The video footage (briefly broadcast, then forgotten) does show a young man who looks like the Tsarnaev brothers being arrested (after being forced to strip), apparently on the night of April 18—the same as the Watertown shoot-out in which Tamerlan was reportedly killed. It is strange that this arrest has been consigned to oblivion by the media, but it seems arbitrary to assume it was Tamerlan. More likely it was some poor kid who was swept up by the cops just because of his appearance, and later released.

Far worse are the claims also appearing on 21st Century Wire that the attacks didn't happen, that the blasts were mere "flash powder" and the amputees were all "actors" in a photo-shopped scam by unnamed conspirators. Vulturecrap of the lowest order.


  1. File under “Not to be outdone…”
    From Raw Story, April 23:

    Coulter: Boston suspect’s widow
    ‘ought to be in prison for wearing a hijab’

    Appearing on Fox News Republican talk show “Hannity” Monday night, right-wing columnist Ann Coulter said she’s sad that not only does she think the Boston bombing should shut down the nation’s immigration reform debate, she would like to see the alleged bomber’s widow in jail too, not for committing a crime but for “wearing a hijab.”

    “I don’t care if she knew about this,” Coulter said. “She ought to be in prison for wearing a hijab. This immigration policy of us, you know, assimilating immigrants into our culture isn’t really working. They’re assimilating us into their culture. Did she get a clitorectomy too?”

    Hannity seemed momentarily puzzled at the sudden citation of female genital mutilation, stammering his reply. “I, uh, I don’t know the answer to that,” he said before confidently adding: “But your point is well taken.”

    Hannity went on to say that he believes people who immigrated “from countries where perhaps they grew up under Sharia law” are definitely a threat and “I think we can make a safe assumption that they have been radicalized.” He added that even foreign students should be subjected to greater scrutiny, lest they too pose a threat.

    “Our immigration policy has nothing to do with helping America,” Coulter insisted. “It has to do with solving the internal problems of other countries. We’ll take Russia’s radicals. We’ll take the illiterate, unskilled, low-skill workers from all these countries. We’ll take their old people and put them on our supplemental security and Medicare. No, immigration policies are supposed to make your country better, not to make it worse and to create all these problems.”

  2. Changing facts in the Boston investigation

    Alex Seitz-Wald on Salon keeps track of inaccuracies reported in the media in the rush to be "first" in real-time: Contrary to initial reports, the suspects were not "heavily armed"; they seem to have had only one pistol between them. When Dzhokhar was taken at the boat, he was unarmed; police apparently fired on him (unclear why), but he didn't shoot back. The 7-11 hold-up now seems to be unrelated to the attacks of the Tsarnaev brothers. And more.

    Alex also notes, citing relatives interviewed by AP, that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a fan of the wacky Alex Jones… who is now of course saying that Boston was a "false flag" attack. How perfectly fitting.


    1. Tsarnaev brothers and the radical right?
      Well, initial speculation (before the Tsarnaev brothers emerged as suspects) that radical-right types were behind the Boston bombings is now at least somewhat vindicated. BBC News reports that among Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s reading materials were right-wing gun-nuttery, white supremacy, Hitler-nostalgism, and 9-11 and Oklahoma City conspiranoia. A few obvious ironies. First, that a Chechen would identify with white supremacism. Second, that someone who buys 9-11 conspiranoia would feel propelled to commit his own act of terrorism, thereby inciting further conspiranoia.

      Those who seek to use these revelations merely to score points will assume that the Islamist and radical-right theses are mutually exclusive. Now, undboutedly, the Tsarnaevs were just severely mixed-up kids—and definitely not hardened terrorist operatives. But their particular brand of confusion seems to be one manifestation of a real phenomenon—the convergence of Islamism and radical-right ideology. We’ve already noted that the Kavkaz Center, voice of the Chechen resistance, is reprinting conspiranoia from Alex Jones’ InfoWars about how the Boston attacks were a “false flag” operation. Beyond the paradox that precisely such theorizing about 9-11 may have inspired the Tsarnaevs in the first place is that of militant Islamists parroting a right-wing populist yahoo from Texas. But there it is.

  3. Rights group wants review of FBI shooting of Chechen man
    From Reuters, May 30:

    A Muslim civil liberties group said on Wednesday it wants a review of the death of a Chechen immigrant linked to the Boston Marathon bombing suspects who was shot and killed by an FBI agent in Florida.

    The FBI has said that Ibragim Todashev, 27, was being questioned when he suddenly attacked an agent on May 22 at his Orlando condominium and was shot and killed based on the “imminent threat posed by the individual.”

    Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Tampa, Florida-based branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his group would by the end of this week file a request for the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice to review Todashev’s death.

  4. Xenophobia in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev death penalty call

    The Daily News reported Jan. 30 that in calling for the death penalty, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz wrote that Dzokhar Tsarnaev "received asylum from the United States; obtained citizenship and enjoyed the freedoms of a United States citizen; and then betrayed his allegiance to the United States by killing and maiming people in the United States." Seems to us this pretty blatantly establishes a double standard for naturalized as opposed to native-born US citizens. We hope this will be challenged as unconstitutional.