In the aftermath of the tragic events that took place at the Boston Marathon, a lot of speculation has been made about the Tsarnaev brothers’ motivation and their possible connection to a larger terrorist organization. One of the most obvious connections that can be made due to their Chechen background would be that they were trained by the Chechen warlord Doku Umarov, "Russia's bin Laden." He is the self-proclaimed Emir of the Caucasus Emirate, a virtual state entity. This emirate has been proclaimed by the United States and Russian Federation to be a terrorist organization. Could Umarov and his Chechen organization’s effort to form an Islamic emirate in the Caucasus have any connection with the Tsarnaev brothers and their atrocious act of violence?
Before we come to any conclusions, it is important that we fully understand Umarov and the objectives of his emirate. Umarov had his first experience of warfare during the First Chechen War when he decided it was his patriotic duty to defend his homeland. As a result, he joined a militia, where he reached the rank of brigadier general by the end of the war. Following the ceasefire of the First Chechen War in 1996, then-president Aslan Maskhadov named Umarov his head of Chechen Security Council. But Umarov was soon forced to resign due to accusations that he was involved in a kidnapping business, most famously the kidnapping of General Gennady Shpigun, Russia's official envoy to Chechnya whose body was found later. During the Second Chechen War that broke out in 1999, Umarov was once again involved and would even lead his own regiment of militia troops against the Russians. By the time that notorious Shamil Basayev was killed by Russian Federal Security Forces in 2006, Umarov had become the vice-president of the newly designed Caucasus Emirate and the last great warlord general that participated in the First Chechen War.
It is important to dissect Umarov’s ideology to fully understand what his goals are and if his organization could possibly have been a mentor for the Tsarnaevs. As I stated before, Umarov is the last living warlord that from the First Chechen War. That is because even though he practices Islam, like many of his other former compatriots he is not influenced by the new wave of Wahhabism that has become ever-present in the region since the Second Chechen War. In an interview, Umarov even goes further explaining that as people the Chechen rebels do not have the right to take life in the name of Allah. Instead he believes they have the obligation to do what is right for their people. But even though Umarov does not consider himself an Islamic extremist and prefers not to use religion as a weapon, it has not stopped him from perpetrating terrorist attacks against the Russian Federation. He has warned the authorities that he will bring a year of "blood and tears" against Russia. Umarov and his organization have taken credit for numerous acts of terror against Russian citizens:
- 2006 suicide attacks killed dozens (and also injured Ingush President Yunus-bek Yevkurov).
- 2009 sabotage of Nevsky Express claimed the lives of 26 people.
- 2010 Moscow Metro bombings killed 40 civilians and injured over 60.
- 2011 suicide bombing at Domodedovo International Airport resulted in 36 deaths.
After the derailment of the Nevsky Express, the Russian Federation officially labeled the Caucasus Emirate a terrorist organization. Since 2011 Umarov has been wanted by the United States, and the U.S. has offered $5 million for any information that could lead to his capture. However, it seems that Umarov has had a shift in his terrorist methods as of 2012. Umarov has ordered his subordinates to halt attacks on the civilian population of Russia, but Russian officials and military personnel are still considered acceptable targets. This turn in terrorist ideology, along with his self-proclaimed traditional practice of Islam rather than Wahhabism, makes me believe that Umarov and his Caucasus Emirate were not in contact with the Tsarnaev brothers prior to their terrorist attack.
Umarov appears to be more of a Chechen nationalist rather than an Islamic jihadist. If the Tsarnaev brothers were radicalized by their visits to Chechnya they most likely came upon foreign jihadists — in all likelihood Afghan veterans that volunteered during the Chechen Wars who have established terrorist sects in the region. Umarov's background, ideology, and personal denunciation of connection to the Tsarnaevs make me believe that this Chechen rebel is not complicit in the Boston Marathon bombing.