Trying to Understand the Tsarnaev Bombers

By Shlomo  Maital   

         Shlomo Maital Boston Marathon

   I crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon on Monday April 16, 2007, five hours after the starting pistol sounded.  My wife and son were waiting for me; the Boston crowds cheered and encouraged me and all the runners, hours after most of the other runners had finished.  It was an incredible experience, unforgettable, and it was denied to all those last April 15 who finished more than four hours after the start.  Three lost their life, including an eight-year-old boy, Martin Richard, from Dorchester; and dozens were injured, some seriously.    This is why I took the bombing very personally.  What causes two people like the Tsarnaev brothers to inflict death and injury, on innocent bystanders, randomly?    Media coverage shed no light on the matter; it was worse than uninformative.   But here is what I have managed to learn:

  What is the link between the Tsarnaev brothers and Chechnya?

     The latest issue of The Economist has the first enlightening piece on the subject.  Here is a brief summary:     “Struggling to integrate in America (“I don’t have a single American friend,” Tamerlan, the older brother, once said), the Tsarnaev boys sought mental refuge in their native land. The internet and social networks that served as a channel created an illusion of engagement without experience or memory. The brothers never fought in the Chechen wars or lived in Chechnya for any length of time. Yet their lives and their sensibilities seem to have collided with its violent and tragic history.  …. After the mass deportation of Chechens by Stalin in 1944, the Tsarnaev family landed in Kyrgyzstan, where the boys later grew up. Their grievances were stirred by separatists who declared Chechnya’s independence after the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. When Russia launched a “small victorious war” against Chechnya in 1994, nationalism was the main cause. By the end of the first war, 50,000 were dead, Chechnya was in ruins—and nationalism had been superseded by Islam.”. 

  What motivated them? 

     Washington Post: “The 19-year-old suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings has told interrogators that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack, according to U.S. officials familiar with the interviews. … The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing investigation, said Dzhokhar and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed by police as the two attempted to avoid capture, do not appear to have been directed by a foreign terrorist organization. Rather, the officials said, the evidence so far suggests they were ‘self-radicalized’ through Internet sites and U.S. actions in the Muslim world. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has specifically cited the U.S. war in Iraq, which ended in December 2011 with the removal of the last American forces, and the war in Afghanistan, where President Obama plans to end combat operations by the end of 2014.”

   Where did they learn to build the bombs?

     NBC News: “The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon attack has told investigators that he and his brother got instructions on building bombs from an online magazine published by al Qaeda, federal law enforcement officials told NBC News. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told investigators that the brothers read the instructions in Inspire, an online, English-language magazine that terror monitoring groups say al Qaeda began publishing in 2010. The magazine has twice included articles on building bombs with kitchen pressure cookers — the method investigators say Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, used in the Boston attack.”

   Where did they get the explosives?

    Slate magazine:   “Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder brother suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings, bought two large pyrotechnic devices in February from a New Hampshire branch of a national fireworks chain, according to executives at the chain’s parent company. William Weimer, a vice president of Phantom Fireworks, said the elder Mr. Tsarnaev on Feb. 6 purchased two “Lock and Load” reloadable mortar kits at the company’s Seabrook, N.H. store, just over the border from Massachusetts. Each kit contains a tube and 24 shells, he said. Mr. Tsarnaev paid cash for the kits, which cost $199.99 apiece.”

       Conclusions:  Social networks are not a good substitute for friendship and social contacts.  America offers immigrants endless material benefits and education, but its individualistic society may leave many alienated.  It is exceptionally easy to learn how to kill people and make bombs and acquire the explosives to do so.   

    I realize this sounds incredibly naïve – but if you know people who are lonely, friendless, down in the dumps…  reach out to them.  The CIA apparently has a database with 500,000 (half a million!) names in it, all ‘suspicious people’, including the Tsarnaev’s.  (When Tamerlan flew to Moscow, Aeroflot misspelled his name in English, so the CIA computers were never alerted).   What are the odds that they can all be tracked?   If you want to do something in the face of attacks like that at the Boston Marathon, the only thing I can think of is to seek out the people who potentially may want to harm others and offer them friendship and hope and understanding.  You may be a lot more effective than the CIA or FBI.