Chechnya – Could a Nation’s Conflict Inspire Terrorism?

By Nadav Morag, Ph.D., University Dean of Security Studies

On April 15, two terrorists planted bombs that killed three people and injured 170 during the Boston Marathon. A subsequent rapid investigation led to two suspects, the brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnayev. Tamerlan Tsarnayev (26) was killed in a shootout with police on April 18, and his brother Dzhokhar (19), after an intensive region-wide manhunt, was finally arrested on April 20. Both brothers are also suspected of shooting and killing a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus police officer on April 18.

The Tsarnayev brothers are of Chechen origin. Chechnya is a small Russian republic in the Caucuses mountains with a population of roughly one million persons, the vast majority of whom are Sunni Muslim. This republic (a self-governing administrative unit within the Russian Federation), has been the scene of two very bloody conflicts between separatists rebels (many of whom were Islamic extremists) and the Russian government. In 1994, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin, sent 100,000 troops into Chechnya to retake the republic from its separatist leader. That operation led to a two year war in Chechneya that killed tens of thousands of Chechens and several thousand Russian troops. In 1999, Russian President Valdimir Putin intervened in Chechnya to block Chechen Islamic militants from invading the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan, and this second round of fighting in Chechnya led to the death of 25,000-50,000 Chechens and some five thousand Russian troops.

Over the years, the Chechen rebellion took on an increasingly extremist Islamic tone and the conflict came to be seen by Muslim radicals worldwide as another area in which to wage armed Jihad. The Chechen militants also proved to be effective terrorists carrying out suicide bombings and other types of terrorist attacks in the Caucasus region as well as Moscow and other Russian cities. Given this historical context, it may not be surprising that two young Chechen men would be inspired by that history and by radical Islamic ideas, to try and lash out at the West (even though Chechnya was a Russian war and not a U.S. and Western military operation such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq).

Nadav Morag, Ph.D., is University Dean of Security Studies at CTU. He works on projects for the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense and is a published author on terrorism, security strategy, and foreign policy. Connect with Dr. Morag on Twitter @CTUHomeland.

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