The Caucasus Emirate Comes to America: The Boston Marathon Bombing


11 September 2013

 Gordon M. Hahn


On April 15th, 2013 global jihadism from Russia’s North Caucasus reared its ugly head in our American homeland.[1]  The jury is still out as to whether anyone among the Caucasus Emirate (CE) mujahedin and/or the global jihadi revolutionary movement recruited Tamerlan Tsarnaev and assisted him and his younger brother Jokhar in carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing, but there is no longer a shadow of doubt that Tamerlan was inspired by the CE.  Indeed, when Tamerlan traveled to Dagestan and more briefly Chechnya during a seven-month period beginning in January 2012 he was considering or seeking to join the CE’s ranks but was deterred from doing so either (1) by Salafists who convinced him to abandon the idea or (2) by the deaths of his CE contact(s). In the latter case, Tamerlan was forced to depart for Boston with the mission of the CE and other organizations in the global jihadi revolutionary movement in mind.  On April 15th Tamerlan and Jokhar acted in the name of that mission – to ‘defend’ Islam from their lost Caucasus homelands to Iraq and Afghanistan.

It remains possible that a direct connection between Tamerlan and the CE will confirmed and that Tamerlan was in fact recruited by elements within the CE’s Dagestani network, the Dagestan Vilaiyat (DV).  It is certain that Dagestan and the CE DV jihad influenced Tamerlan, mediated through his mother and the Internet.  The same is true for Jokhar, with perhaps the added element of the Chechen cause, communicated to him through his Chechen heritage and father and the same Internet.

Towards the good, one consequence of the attack is that a small number of Western journalists are beginning to engage in some real reporting on radical Islam in Dagestan and the North Caucasus.  However, journalists or their editors continue to delete from their accounts any mention of the CE and its alliance with AQ and the global jihadi revolutionary alliance.  Instead, the focus continues to be misplaced on ‘Chechens’ and ‘Chechnya’, when the CE jihad’s center of gravity has been in Ingushetiya (2007-2010) and Dagestan (2010-present) for six years running.[2]

Background on the CE as Prelude to Boston

My 2007 book Russia’s Islamic Threat (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007) documented the ‘jihadization’ of the ‘Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya’ (ChRI), its abandonment of the Chechen nationalist cause, its emergence as a global jihadi threat, and the real possibility that mujahedin in the region would provide recruits for the global jihadi revolutionary alliance led at the time by Al Qa’ida (AQ). Five months after publication, ChRI ‘president’ Dokku Umarov abolished the ChRI and its ‘taghut’ or man-made laws and institutions and declared himself amir ‘Abu Usman’ of an explicitly-stated Sharia-based jihadist ‘Caucasus Emirate’ (CE). Umarov claimed CE sovereignty over the entire North Caucasus and all ‘Muslim lands’ across Russia and the former USSR and declared jihad against the US, Great Britain, Israel and all countries fighting Muslims anywhere in the world.

Since 2007 Umarov and CE ideologists have stated repeatedly that the organization is part of the global jihadi revolutionary alliance and supports AQ and other jihadi groups, though many refused to listen. CE websites now publish jihadi literature alone, including that of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Anwar Al-Awlaki, and hundreds of others. Published fatwas justify the use of weapons of mass destruction to kill “millions” of Americans, and translated issues of AQ’s journal Inspire and articles like ‘Make a Bomb in Your Mom’s Kitchen’ instruct prospective mujahedin how to build IEDs from pressure cookers as the Tsarnaevs did.

Since 2007 the CE has carried out or otherwise been involved in some 2,000 insurgent and terrorist attacks and other violent incidents in Russia, including 49 suicide bombings. From summer 2007 the greatest number of attacks and jihadi-related violent incidents were carried out not in Chechnya but in Ingushetiya.  Since spring 2010, the CE jihad’s spearhead has been Dagestan, where the CE’s ‘Dagestan Vilaiyat’ (DV) has carried out two-thirds of all CE attacks – nearly one per day in Dagestan alone.  Yet both journalistic pieces and scholarly analyses persisted in referring to ‘Chechnya’, ‘Chechens’, Chechen separatism’ and the like.

In September 2009, Jordan’s Sheikh Abu Muhammad Asem al-Maqdisi, whom the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) designated “the most influential living Jihadi Theorist,” endorsed the CE as a jihadist organization and urged Muslims to support it “so the Emirate becomes the door to Eastern Europe.”[3]  Consistent with Maqdisi’s call, the CE has expanded operations to Europe and elsewhere abroad.

The years 2010 and 2011 saw the CE’s first two major forays into Europe.  In November 2010, a ‘Shariah4Belgium’ cell was uncovered, including Chechens, Moroccans, Belgians, and Dutch. It used a Russian-language website tied to Al Qaida to recruit fighters, raise funds and plan attacks on NATO targets. In April 2011, a DV-tied cell, including Dagestanis, was uncovered in the Czech Republic, planning attacks in a third country.

In April 2012, Azerbaijani security forces foiled a second DV (Dagestani Vilaiyat) foreign plot to carry out attacks in Baku and elsewhere in the southern Caucasus country, home to the strategic Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.[4] There was also an alleged, still shadowy plot to assassinate President Vladimir Putin reported in late February 2012. Operations for the assassination were to be in Ukraine, with operatives from Kazakhstan moving through Turkey and the Middle East.[5]

The CE has had a likely connection or inspired at least three foreign interdicted and successful attacks. In 2010 a Chechen, one Lors Dukaev, accidentally detonated a bomb he was preparing in a Copenhagen hotel for an attack on the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that printed a series of caricatures of Mohammed, which set off a series of violent demonstrations and calls for revenge around the Muslim world. In 2012 Dukaev was sentenced to 12 years in prison for planning a terrorist attack. When Dukaev came to Denmark he was already an invalid, having lost a hand previously in Chechnya, suggesting he may have belonged to, and/or fought under the CE or its predecessor organization, the ChRI.

In August 2012 Spanish and French police uncovered a plot to target a mall on British Gibraltar and/or other targets using hang gliders during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Spanish authorities arrested two Chechens, Eldar Magomedov (alias Ahmad Avar) and Mohamed Ankari Adamov, and one Turk, Chengiz Yalchin, on terrorism charges. All three were said to be working for AQ, and Magomedov was said to be AQ’s top operative in Europe.[6] It is highly unlikely that the Chechens would not have been members of, or inspired by the CE, the at least partially global jihadist group based in their homeland.  The Boston Marathon follows the logic of the globalization of the CE and the rest of the revolutionary jihadi movement and falls into the category of ‘CE-inspired’ if not ‘CE-organized.’

The CE and the Tsarnaevs: Influence or Recruitment?

The jury is still out as to whether anyone among the CE mujahedin and/or other global jihadi revolutionary groups recruited and assisted the Tsarnaev brothers in carrying out their attack.  However, there no longer can be a shadow of doubt that both, especially Tamerlan, were inspired by both the CE and the larger global jihad of which it is a part.  Indeed, when Tamerlan traveled to Dagestan and more briefly to Chechnya during a seven-month period beginning in January 2012 he was considering or seeking to join the CE’s ranks but was deterred from doing so either (1) by Salafists who convinced him to abandon the idea or (2) by the deaths of his CE contact(s).  In the latter case, Tamerlan was forced to depart for Boston with the mission of the CE and other organizations in the global jihadi revolutionary movement in mind.  Tamerlan and Jokhar acted in the name of the global jihadi mission – to ‘defend’ Islam from their lost Caucasus homelands to Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are three possible relationships between the Tsarnaev brothers and the CE (and/or some other jihadi group): (1) indirect inspiration; (2) direct inspiration: and (3) a direct, that is an operational tie in terms of direct recruitment and/or financial, training, or logistical assistance.

Indirect Inspiration – Tamerlan and perhaps Jokhar were under the influence of the Caucasus Emirate and the global Islamist/jihadist revolutionary movement to which it belongs. This influence was strengthened by Tamerlan’s visit to Dagestan.

Direct Inspiration – Tamerlan was directly encouraged by the CE or elements within, but was neither trained, financed, nor otherwise recruited by anyone the CE’s DV or global jihadi revolutionary movement.

Operational Connection – In this scenario Dolgatov and/or the CE’s DV recruited, funded, trained, and/or otherwise supported Tamerlan and his younger brother Jokhar in carrying out this Boston Marathon attack. Under this scenario Jokhar would be considered to have been possibly indirectly recruited through Tamerlan and inspired by the CE, DV or global jihadi revolutionary movement. I examine the evidence for each in turn below.

Indirect Inspiration

What we now know locks up the Tsarnaevs as a cut-and-dry case of indirect inspiration by the global jihadi revolutionary movement and, in particular, by the Caucasus Emirate, and the case is rock solid.  At the most generalized level, the surviving brother, Jokhar, as he lay in a land-docked boat in Watertown, Massachusetts, scrawled a series of declarations on its walls providing what prosecutors view as the motive and a confession: “’The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians;’ ‘I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished;’ ‘We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all;’ ‘Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said [illegible] it is allowed;’ and ‘Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.’”[7] Jokhar again acknowledged the jihadi motive to police in his first interrogation in hospital after being captured that he and his brother were acting to “defend Islam.”[8]

It is now clear that Tamerlan went to Dagestan with the idea of joining the CE.  He was either considering or had decided to do so; from the statements of acquaintances it appears to be the latter.  According to reports, he was supposedly talked out of ‘going to the forest’ (as locals call joining the CE jihad) by Salafists, including Tamerlan’s third cousin.  Cousin Magomed Kartashov and members of his radical Salafist group ‘Soyuz spravedlivykh’ (Union of the Just or UJ) met with Tamerlan at least twice in Kizlyar during his 2012 trip to Dagestan. The UJ is a very active Salafist group that supports the recreation of the Caliphate by peaceful means.  The UJ operates around Kizlyar and is allied with the larger and even more influential Dagestani Salafist organization ‘Akhlu al-Sunna’ (AaS) operating mostly in Makhachkala.  These two groups have been able to attract as many as three thousand people to demonstrations demanding an end to violations of human rights in Dagestan and condemning US foreign policy.[9]

It is clear from statements made to journalists by Kartashov and five of his UJ colleagues that they had to exert considerable effort over a period of the two meetings in order to convince Tamerlan not to join the CE’s Dagestan Vilaiyat mujahedin ‘in the forest.’  Kartashov, according to one report, “spent hours trying to stop Mr. Tsarnaev from ‘going to the forest’ or joining one of the militant cells” under the CE’s DV.  Kartashov “explained to him at length that violent methods are not right.”[10]  At two separate barbecues on the shore of the Caspian Sea, the Salafists and Tamerlan debated the propriety of the CE DV and the global jihad.  At the first barbecue Tamerlan was supportive of the CE DV’s jihad as a “holy war” (as written, likely meaning he called it ‘jihad’), but the Salafists tried to talk him out of joining the DV, arguing that its fighters were attacking other Muslims.  At the second barbecue Tamerlan discussed jihad more “in a global context,” talking about “the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the civil war in Syria, which some of the men from Kartashov’s circle accuse the U.S. and U.K. of helping to foment.”  Kartashov and his UJ circle tried to dissuade Tsarnaev of “his sympathies for local militants.”  By the end of his time in Dagestan, Tamerlan’s interests seem to have shifted from the local insurgency to a more global notion of Islamic struggle–closer to the one espoused by Kartashov’s Salafist-oriented UJ.[11]

Journalistic reporting on Tamerlan’s intent to join the CE DV has been corroborated by both U.S. and Russian intelligence and other officials.  On a fact-finding mission to Moscow Massachusetts Representative William R. ­Keating, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, was convinced that the Boston attack could have been averted with better U.S.-Russian counter-terrorism cooperation.  Russian counterintelligence officials showed him very detailed information that had convinced them Tsarnaev “had plans to join the insurgency” in Dagestan and prompted them to warn US authorities in 2011.  Keating was shown “’the names, the addresses, the cellphone numbers, the iPad accounts, e-mail, Facebook pages.’” Moreover, Tamerlan “’was trying to get involved to go to Palestine and deal with insurgencies there but wasn’t able to learn the language there sufficiently so that had to be scratched.’ According to the FSB, ­Tamerlan then decided to come to Dagestan.”[12]  In other words, Tamerlan was first trying to join the global jihad in Palestine, then in Dagestan, and finally did so by undertaking his attack in Boston.

In addition, it remains unclear whether, in fact, the Kartashov and the UJ really disabused Tamerlan of joining the CE DV jihad.  There is some evidence that Tamerlan made contacts with DV operatives while in Dagestan, and importantly it was AFTER his return to Cambridge that he posted videos made by a mid-level DV amir (see below).  Also, there is no division between the CE’s theo-ideology and the global jihad that one journalist claimed distinguishes Tamerlan’s views at the two barbecues, respectively (see below).  Moreover, the Salafists in the UJ, perhaps even Tamerlan’s cousin Kartashov, could have been the ones who put him in contact with the CE’s DV mujahedin.  The same journalist who made the false CE/global jihad distinction also made the false claim that the Dagestani Salafists have no ties to the CE.[13] However, after kicking around Dagestan for a month he acknowledged in his later piece covering Tamerlan’s visit to Kizlyar that UJ members’ ties to the CE DV jihadists “are often close.”[14]  As journalists and perhaps someday even some academics finally begin to examine global Islamism and jihadism in the North Caucasus, one can hope against hope that the learning will continue.  Indeed, Salafists and other Islamists form the primary recruiting pool for the CE.  The disagreements between Islamists like those of the UJ and AaS, on the one hand, and CE jihadists, on the other hand, are over strategy and tactics not theo-ideology or goals.  Both want Shariah law locally and a caliphate globally; they only dispute the efficacy of violence not its propriety.

At this point, we have too little information about Tamerlan’s visit to Chechnya for an assessment as to whether he was seeking out CE contacts there CE, given Chechnya’s much weaker CE network, the Nokchicho Vilaiyat (NV), and what if anything happened there that might have influenced his further actions.

The CE’s inspiration of the Tsarnaevs is further confirmed by what we know from the brothers’ social media web pages.  CE and global Islamist and jihadist literature featured prominently in their mental and theo-ideological constitutions.  Tamerlan’s social media was more robust in its jihadism than Jokhar’s.  Tamerlan initiated his YouTube page, http://www.youtube.com/user/muazseyfullah, on 17 August 2012; that is, almost immediately upon his return from jihad-torn Dagestan in July.  Its postings are overtly and stridently Islamist and jihadist in nature. The user in the link is identified as ‘MuazSeifullah.’ Two former amirs of the DV include Muaz and most famously Seifullah Gubdenskii (born Magomedali Vagabov); the latter of whom was also the CE’s top Shariah court judge or ‘qadi’ and was featured in IIPER numerous times, before his August 2010 death at the hands of security and police forces.  More importantly, Tamerlan posted on his YouTube page two videos posted on CE and DV websites by the amir of the Rabbanikala (the real name is Kizilyurt) Sector Jihadist of the DV’s powerful Central Front, Gajimurad Dolgatov (jihadi alias ‘Abu Dujan’).  Dolgatov was killed in December 2012 along with six other mujahedin in a long shootout with federal and local Dagestani forces. With Dolgatov’s demise at the hands of the ‘infidel’, Tamerlan’s sympathies for Dolgatov could have intensified his desire to ‘defend Islam’ by way of the terrorist attack he committed less than four months later, especially given the possibility that the two may have met during Tamerlan’s 2012 visit to Dagestan (see below).  Another video on Tamerlan’s YouTube page is an explicitly jihadist film hailing ‘The Emergence of the Black Flags from the Land of Khorasan,’ also the title of the film posted by Tamerlan in summer 2012 shortly after his return from Dagestan.  It includes film footage of Islamic fighters from days gone by riding on horses and carrying black jihadi flags.  Subtitles hail the arrival of the time, today by inference, when the forces of Islam, led by the Mahdi, the One Directed by Allah, will conquer the Holy Land and establish the global Caliphate prior to Judgment Day. Tamerlan posted another video called ‘Terrorists,’ but it was later deleted.

Tamerlan’s explicitly exhibited ‘takfirist’ tendencies – a clear marker of the theo-ideology espoused by the CE and other global jihadi groups.  On his YouTube page he condemned any and all who adopted anything other than a strict Sunni Islamist faith. Such exclusionary monotheism or tawhid is a central characteristic of jihadists the world over and of the Salafists and other Islamists from whom they recruit. Tawhid rejects worship of anyone or anything other than Allah, and all those who violate the stricture of tawhid are designated takfir or outcasts or excommunicated from Islam. Thus, Tamerlan’s last entry, which came in February 2013 and just two months before the attack, condemned and bid farewell to a friend named Mikhail for converting to Shiism (from Sunni Islam or something else is unclear).  Tamerlan writes to his friend ‘Misha’: “You are no longer Mikhail but the Misha that was before (you adopted) Islam. You have adopted Shiism not because that is what convinces you but from your passions and interests (about which only Allah knows) which you have followed.  You entered Islam and left it as you were (before you adopted it). You have betrayed yourself Misha. OK, let us say good-bye.”  Tamerlan’s mood was now very intolerant, even towards friends.  It was at about this time that planning for the Marathon attack must have begun or had been in full swing. Tamerlan’s page also included videos condemning Sufism taken from CE and pro-jihadi Russian-language websites.

Tamerlan’s Facebook page, from which much material has recently been deleted, confirms his increasingly jihadist leanings as early as 2011.  On September 11, 2011 Tamerlan posted a link to the CE’s official website, Kavkaz tsentr and added the following comment: “If you are an American Muslim you should see THIS… At last one has spoken out!”[15]  The linked article’s crude English text was acutely anti-American and jihadist, calling on Muslims to fight the U.S. as the main obstacle to establishing a global caliphate:

“Enough to get a glimpse at a world map, and turn off the TV for a moment from which the turbulent flow of gushing infidel propaganda, in order to realize an obvious fact, which is desperately trying to “ignore” the enemies of Islam.

Since 2001, the date on which the infidels of the world under US leadership have begun an all-out war against Islam, despite the enormous losses of Muslims and death of their leaders, despite the enormous forces and resources involved and the enemy occupation of Islamic lands, Jihad territory has not shrunk, vice versa – it has been steadily expanding to include new countries…

Today we are witnessing the collapse of the regime of military tyranny. The Arab revolt is only the first step in a new era. America represents the highest form of modern military tyranny which, unlike other empires of the past, rules not only on land or at sea, but also in the air and in space.

So what are the causes of doubts and hesitations of those Muslims who are still trying to ignore reality? Disease of the hearts and feebleness of their faith!”[16]

The article also includes a quote from the now late anti-American Al Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula operative and theo-ideologist Anwar al-Awlaki,[17] who organized several attacks on the U.S. homeland from Yemen and whose lectures the Tsarnaev brothers were fond of and appear regularly on all of the CE’s websites in both text and video form.[18]

Although Tamerlan’s jihadi articulations on his social media pages are more robust, Jokhar’s are considerable and just as in his brother’s case confirm that one of, if not the key motivation lie in their fervent Islamic faith which had ‘gone wild.’  Jokhar posted on his ‘VKontakte’ page (VKontakte is a Russian Facebook-like social media forum) a video of news coverage of the March 2010 Moscow subway twin suicide bombings carried out by the wives of two DV amirs that killed 40 and wounded more than 100.[19]  He also posted a gruesome video about the civil war in Syria between the Bashir Assad regime and the revolutionary opposition dominated by Islamist and jihadist forces.  He wrote: “Congratulations to you those suffer for, who go through martyrdom of Allah illaha ill Allah.”[20]  Jokhar’s Twitter feed—@J_tsar—is a maelstrom of teenage angst, anti-Americanism, resentment surrounding his North Caucasus and Islamic identity and a dash of Islamism.  Here are some excerpts:

March 14, 2012—a decade in america already, I want out.
August 16, 2012—The value of human life ain’t shit nowadays that’s #tragic.
August 22, 2012—I am the best beer pong player in Cambridge. I am the #truth.
September 1, 2012—Idk why it’s hard for many of you to accept that 9/11 was an inside job. I mean I guess @#%& the facts y’all are some real #patriots #gethip.
December 24, 2012—Brothers at the mosque either think I’m a convert or that I’m from Algeria or Syria, just the other day a guy asked me how I came to Islam.
January 15, 2013—I don’t argue with fools who say islam is terrorism it’s not worth a thing, let an idiot remain an idiot.[21]

Jokhar also had a since deleted Instagram account, the entries of which might display still greater Islamic radicalism and offer clues as to whether the Tsarnaevs had a handler or ties to the CE. Using the username ‘jmaister1’ Tsarnaev “liked” a photo of Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, who organized numerous terrorist attacks and played a major role in the jihadization of the CE’s predecessor organization, the extreme nationalist government and then guerilla army, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya, until he was killed in July 2006. He also ‘liked’ several photographs referencing Chechnya posted by others, including one that carries a string of hashtags: #FreeChechenia #Jihad #Jannah #ALLAH #Jesus and #God. CNN consulted with an unidentified Chechnya expert who, according to CNN, confirmed that Jokhar displayed “familiarity with Chechen politics and iconography.”[22]  Jokhar’s ‘familiarity’ probably was in large part due to his classes with the pro-Chechen American professor, Brian Glyn Williams, of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.  Williams justifiably expressed in a widely published email that he fears that his teachings may have contributed to Jokhar’s radicalization.[23] Williams’ teachings, which emphasize that Russia was conducting a “genocidal war” against Chechens and that Chechens have never had anything to do with Al Qa`ida and international jihadism, likely functioned to confirm a one-sided interpretation of the post-Soviet Chechen wars Jokhar was gleaning from radical Islamist websites.[24] Thus, Jokhar’s radicalization included not just jihadization and a desire to ‘defend Islam’, as he put it, and was also driven in part by radical Chechen nationalism derived from various sources.

According to the 30-count, 74-page indictment of Jokhar he downloaded several radical jihadist videos from the Internet on to his computer in the months or years before the attack.  One was “The Slicing Sword, Against the One Who Forms Allegiances with the Disbelievers and Takes Them as Supporters Instead of Allah, His Messenger, and the Believers,” which orders Muslims not give allegiance to governments that invade Muslim lands and included a forward by the deceased anti-American AQ in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operative and theo-ideologist Anwar al-Awlaki.  Another, “Defense of the Muslim Lands, The First Obligation After Imam,” was written by the so-called ‘father of global jihad’ Abdullah Azzam and calls for violence against perceived enemies of Islam.[25]

Behaviorally, there were clear signs that Tamerlan had Islamist leanings years before his trip to Dagestan and Chechnya in 2012. Tamerlan’s former girlfriend from 2006-2009, now 24-year old Nadine Ascencao, claims that he already held to radical Islam in 2009.  She claims that their relationship changed for the worse over that time presumably as a result of his actively studying Islam and an accompanying rise in aggressiveness.  Tamerlan insisted that Ascencao convert to Islam, and she seriously considered doing so, being in love with him.  We know that Tamerlan insisted on the same and succeeded in this with his eventual wife, the American, Catherine Russell.  Tamerlan made Ascencao wear the hijab and pray to Allah, forbid her to watch Western television, and hit her when she wore Western dress. She described his transformation from a fun-loving young man into watching radical Islamic videos and “talking insane nonsense”: “One minute he’s this funny, normal guy who liked boxing and having fun, the next he is praying four times a day, watching Islamic videos and talking insane nonsense.  He became extremely religious and tried to brainwash me to follow Islam. Tamerlan said I couldn’t be with him unless I became a Muslim. He wanted me to hate America like he did.”  Tamerlan began playing off Ascencoa with his increasingly more successful Islamic conversion project – Catherine Russell – complaining when Ascencoa failed to remember Islamic verses that Russell could do it.  He even began refusing Ascencoa intimate relations so as not to violate Islamic structures against premarital sex.  She increasingly feared her boyfriend’s growing radicalism and then stopped seeing him.[26]  Tamerlan’s attempts to convert these women bears some hallmarks of the jihadists’ frequent efforts to manipulate wives in service of jihad, though there is no indication as yet that Tamerlan planned for or approached either Ascencoa or Russell with the idea of carrying out any kind of attack.  Similar behavior is Tamerlan’s extensively reported outburst at the Boston mosque during which he condemned the celebration of US holidays as blasphemy and a similar outburst against a Muslim Cambridge shopkeeper who advertised Thanksgiving turkeys.[27]

Thus, Jokhar’s reported behavior until April 15th seemed to contrast with Tamerlan’s fervent Islamism and reflected more that of a usual teenager tinged, to be sure, with a growing Islamist mindset shaped by his older brother that he kept hidden inside from his friends.

Both Tsarnaev brothers were influenced by the global jihadi movement’s solidarity expressed persistently on CE websites.  Jokhar’s final testament written in blood as he lay nearly dying in the hole of a dry-docked boat in Watertown drew from the global jihad movement’s standard ideological repertoire: “When you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims.”  He elaborated that he and his brother attacked Boston because of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.[28]  As Tamerlan radicalized, he also would come to focus on the global in addition to the local CE jihad in Dagestan and the North Caucasus (see below).

The Tsarnaevs’ tactics as well might have been driven by the Internet, specifically from their visits to CE and jihadi websites, rather that direct recruitment and training.  Jokhar has told U.S. investigators that the brothers learned to build the pressure-cooker bombs from reading Al Qa`ida’s online English-language journal Inspire.[29]  In December 2010, the CE-affiliated website Islamdin.com posted a Russian translation of a long excerpt from an article in Inspire detailing in text and photographs on how to “make a bomb in your mother’s kitchen” with pressure cookers.[30]  So when they began visiting those sites – as they surely did given their posting of videos from those sites – this article would have been accessible to them.  We know that Tamerlan’s Russian was good enough to have read such an article, though it is possible he used the original English version.

The brothers’ faith may have been radicalized under the influence of not just global jihadism’s Internet propaganda but also by their seemingly unstable and suddenly very religious mother.  The murder of Tamerlan’s friend, Brendan Mess, in Waltham, Massachusetts on Sept. 11, 2011, a murder Tamerlan may have committed, according to recent reports, coincided with the growing illness of Tamerlan’s father prompted his mother Zubeidat to suggest he seek solace in a turn to Islam: “I told Tamerlan that we are Muslim, and we are not practicing our religion, and how can we call ourselves Muslims? And that’s how Tamerlan started reading about Islam, and he started praying, and he got more and more and more into his religion.” Relatives and friends say “something turned” inside the young man and “it was dramatic.”  At the same time, with her marriage ending in divorce, Zubeidat was also turning increasingly to religion, suddenly donning the veil and refusing to do facials for men as she had done previously.[31]

It is through their mother that the brothers would have been introduced and connected to their Dagestani homeland and identity.  Zubeidat Tsarnaeva is from Dagestan and a member of that republic’s largest ethnic group, the Avars, the most fervently Islamic and often Islamist ethnic group in Russia today.  The Avars led the resistance to the imposition of Russian colonial rule in the 19th century and Avar and other Dagestani ethic groups’ Sufi sheikhs led in the proselytizing of Sufi Islam among the Chechens and other North Caucasus ethnic groups.  At the peak of the resistance, led by Imam Shamil, the Sufi sheikhs pushed for the establishment of Shariah law, which was alien to the region and adopted from the regions close historical and cultural ties to the Middle East.  As detailed in Chapter 7, the CE jihad has been spearheaded in Dagestan since April 2010, with 60-70 percent of CE attacks in Russia occurring there on a steady basis of approximately one per day for several years now.  Both brothers spent their early years amidst the first post-Soviet Chechen-Russian war and were surrounded by terrible violence that forced their family to flee to Kyrgyzstan.  They also went to school in Dagestan for at least a year after the family fled from persecution in Kyrgyzstan before moving to the U.S.  When Tamerlan returned to his mother’s homeland in 2012, he entered what is virtually a war zone involving Islamist who thought much like him, on the one hand, and Sufis and the authorities, on the other.  No better milieu could there be for his further jihadization.

The brothers’ turbulent family life complemented the dramatic events occurring in their heritage homelands.  Zubeidat’s post-attack interviews and her involvement in a theft of nearly $2 thousand in goods from a Natick, Massachusetts Lord & Taylor store suggest antisocial tendencies that may have contributed to the boys’ instability.  This was likely further compounded by their parents’ divorce in 2011.  Zubeidat’s now former husband and the boys’ father, Anzor, is an ethnic Chechen from Chechnya, giving the brothers’ a heritage tie to that troubled region, and it is through the father that the younger Jokhar seemed to develop an interest in Chechen politics.

Tamerlan’s travels to Dagestan, the DV’s prominence in Dagestan and the CE, the brothers’ CE- and DV-tied social media articulations and, most importantly, Tamerlan’s plans to join the CE DV demonstrate that the Tsarnaevs, in particular Tamerlan, were at least inspired, if not recruited by the CE.  The CE’s now Dagestani-led jihadism functioned as a conduit for influence by the global jihadi revolutionary alliance.  Thus, not just the Tsarnaevs’ frequently noted Chechen background but their Dagestani ethnic Avar and Muslim heritage attracted the brothers to the CE and its DV network, bringing them further under the sway of CE and the global jihadi revolutionary movement.

Direct Inspiration

The possibility that that there was direct inspiration and even operational cooperation between the CE and the Tsarnaevs – Tamerlan, in particular – hinges on reported possible contacts between Tamerlan and CE mujahedin during his trip to Dagestan from January to July 2012.  There are at present three possible contact persons reported by Russian intelligence and counter-terrorism forces and reportedly largely confirmed by U.S. investigators through “other channels”:[32]

  • a half-ethnic Kumyk, half-Palestinian 18-year old CE recruiter Mahmud Mansur Nidal;
  • the 21-year old Russian-Canadian CE mujahed William Plotnikov;
  • ‘Abu Dujan’ Gajimurad Dolgatov – the amir of the Rabbanikala (the mujahedin’s name for the town of Kizilyurt, Dagestan) Sector of the Central Front of the CE’s Dagestan-based network, the Dagestan Vilaiyat.

The Nidal Connection

On April 27th the Russian opposition newspaper Novaya gazeta reported other possible connections between Tamerlan and the CE in the persons of a half-ethnic Kumyk (Kumyks are one of the largest ethnic Muslim groups in Dagestan), half-Palestinian 18-year old recruiter Mahmud Mansur Nidal and a Russian-Canadian mujahed William Plotnikov, both operating in Dagestan and there when Tamerlan made his 2012 visit.[33]  According to Novaya gazeta’s sources in Dagestan’s counter-terrorism unit, the Center for Economic Crime and Extremism (TsEPE), the TsEPE were tracking Tamerlan during his 2012 visit to the republic and placed him on its ‘operational register’ or watch list.  He first came onto the TsEPE’s radar in April of that year, when its agents and/or those of other services witnessed him with a recruiter for the CE’s Dagestani network, the Dagestan Vilaiyat, the abovementioned Mahmud Mansur Nidal, whom the TsEPE had been following for a year.[34]  Anyone seen with Nidal, including Tamerlan, was also in turn “thoroughly checked” by Dagestan counter-terrorism units, according to the Novaya gazeta source.  Tamerlan’s telephone conversations were listened in on but revealed nothing.  According to the source, Tamerlan did not meet with any other suspected mujahedin or their facilitators, and he did not visit any jihadi websites while in Dagestan.  If true, this suggests Tamerlan was being especially careful while in Russia, since he did visit CE and other Islamist and sites when in the US.

According to Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK), Nidal was born in Buinaksk, Dagestan in 1992, and his father was from Pakistan.  Nidal joined the CE’s DV in December 2011 – that is, on the eve of Tamerlan’s arrival in Dagestan in January 2012 – and functioned as a messenger, recruiter and fighter. He first joined a combat jamaat in the DV’s Caspian Sector, based along the Caspian Sea where Tamerlan would visit his Salafist cousin Kartashov during his trip.  Nidal then transferred to the Makhachkala Sector or Jamaat, putting him where Tamerlan was based for most of his 2012 Russia trip.  Nidal took part in a series of major terrorist operations, including explosions, murders, and attacks on personnel of Dagestan’s law enforcement departments and special forces.  In particular, he was identified by the Russian intelligence as the organizer of the May 3, 2012 terrorist attack in Makhachkala in which 13 people were killed.  However, Nidal told Kavkaz uzel in a telephone conversation that he did not take part in that attack and had not been in Makhachkala at the time.[35]

Security forces killed Nidal in a special operation in Makhachkala on 19 May 2012.  According to a witness, Nidal agreed at first to surrender but after a woman and child were released from the residence he refused to do so and was killed.  Nidal “knew that the siloviki (security, intelligence and police forces) had too much information on him,” according to the source.  After Nidal’s death, the NAK published a photograph of Nidal in the forest with militants from the DV’s Makhachkala Sector.  Nidal was married to one Anzhela Dolgatova from Makhachkala, perhaps a sister of Isa Dalgatov (killed with Plotnikov, see below) or our third Tamerlan connection, amir ‘Abu Dujan’ Gajimurad Dolgatov. Smiling, Anzhela told a journalist, after Nidal’s death: “He died defending Islam from aggressors and became a Shakhid [martyr] last night, that is the happiest news for me.”[36]  After Nidal’s demise, according to Novaya gazeta’s source, Tamerlan moved from his father’s apartment and did not meet with anyone unless it was absolutely necessary; his Aunt Patimat had to bring his food to his room.[37]  This suggests that Tamerlan got scared and was being exceedingly cautious as a result of his acquaintance’s death.

After meeting with Russian intelligence officials in Moscow in June 2013, U.S. Representative William Keating said that the files Russian counterintelligence officials had shown him on Tamerlan’s ties at least with Nidal convinced him that Tamerlan “had plans to join the insurgency” in Dagestan.[38]  Earlier, Keating had noted earlier that investigators believe that Tamerlan met with Nidal and that he believed Tamerlan “reached out to members of the insurgency in Dagestan.”[39]  Since we know from journalists’ interviews with Tamerlan’s cousin Kartashov and the Salafists from his Union of the Just that Tamerlan arrived in Dagestan thinking about or already intent on joining the CE DV, his meeting with the recruiter Nidal makes perfect sense.  The evidence that a meeting took place seems incontrovertible, and therefore the possibility of direct influence through encouragement seems strong.  This encouragement could have been overt in the form of verbal support for an attack, including perhaps the promise of membership in the CE in return for an attack.  Influence could have been implied in that Tamerlan would have been inspired simply by having met with Nidal and perhaps two more ‘heroic’ CE DV mujahedin, all of whom became more exalted as martyrs after their deaths at the hands of security forces in 2012.

The Plotnikov Connection

According to the same Novaya gazeta sources, Dagestani and Russian intelligence’s investigations into Nidal and Tamerlan turned up the latter’s ties to the Canadian mujahed William Plotnikov. It turns out that Tamerlan had entered into the sights of Russian security, according to the Dagestan TsEPE source, when the FSB discussed Tamerlan with the FBI in early 2011.  Tamerlan’s name had come up in the course of investigating Plotnikov, who had been identified as “confessing to radical Islam,” when Russian intelligence was inquiring with the FBI regarding information on where Tamerlan lived and what he was doing.  Plotnikov had been arrested in December 2010 in Izberbash, Dagestan and interrogated first by the republic’s TsEPE and then its FSB.  He had traveled to Dagestan to study Islam without his parents’ knowledge, coming from Toronto where the family had moved in 2005.  In detention Plotnikov, who may have been tortured, would compile for investigators a list of people from the North Caucasus in Europe and the US with whom he had made contacts over the Internet.  When siloviki searched names in social media, Tamerlan’s name appeared.  The two had socialized on the Islamic site ‘World Association of Muslim Youth’ site or WAMY to which Tamerlan had linked up through his YouTube page.  The FSB examined Tamerlan’s page and inquired with the FBI, which never answered, and Tsarnaev’s name disappeared into the archives.[40]

Novaya gazeta journalist conjectures that Tsarnaev and Plotnikov met, since both were boxers, constantly participated in tournaments, and became very interested in religion at the same time in 2009.  That same year Tamerlan traveled to a boxing tournament in Canada, where they may have met.  After that Tamerlan traveled to stay with his aunt several times in Toronto, where Plotnikov lived, but there is no information, according to Novaya gazeta, that the two met in Dagestan at any time during the six-month period in which they were both in the republic.[41]

With nothing to charge him with and his father having asked the MVD to find his son, Plotnikov was freed from custody.  Plotnikov returned the village of Utamysh, in Dagestan’s Kayakent District, where he had lived about half a year before and after his arrest (October 2010-March 2011).  Utamysh is populated largely by ethnic Kumyks like recruiter Nidal, suggesting a possible Tsarnaev-Nidal-Plotnikov connection.  Plotnikov’s neighbors report he was “a quiet, kind, and very religious Russian guy who was interested in nothing but prayer and fasting.”  In spring 2012 or early summer he became an “illegal mujahed,” that is a militant who lives in the forest rather than in a village or town living as an everyday civilian secretly supporting the jihad.[42]

Plotnikov was apparently a member of the Sergokala or Izberbash jamaats under the Central Sector of CE’s DV.  When he met his demise in Utamysh during a special counter-terrorist operation on 14 July 2012, among the 7 mujahedin who were killed along with him were Sergokala Jamaat amir ‘Abdulkhalikh’ Islam Magomedov (also called ‘Khomyak,’ among the mujahedin), Izberbash amir ‘Abdullah’ Arsen Magomedov, Magomedsaid Mamatov from Utamysh, Amin Ibiev from Kayakent, Shamil Akhmedov, and one Isa Dalgatov.[43]  Of particular interest is Dalgatov.  This could be an alternative spelling for Dolgatov, meaning that Isa Dalgatov might be a relative of ‘Abu Dujan’ Gajimurad Dolgatov, with whom Tamerlan allegedly met in Makhachkala’s Kotrov Street mosque six times.[44]  This might indicate another tie between two of Tamerlan’s three possible CE contacts – this time between Dolgatov and Plotnikov.

The Russian authorities say they lost track of Tamerlan from this point.  Contrary to the statements of Tamerlan’s father that he was with Tamerlan the entire time his son was in Dagestan and Chechnya, Anzor could only assure Dagestani authorities that Tamerlan had not gone to the forest but had returned to the US.  The authorities were concerned that, according to Novaya gazeta’s TsEPE source, Tamerlan had not waited to receive the Russian passport he had applied for in late June.  They searched for him across the republic, checking passenger lists for planes and trains and checked buses, and then broadened the search beyond Dagestan.  They soon determined that just two days after Plotnikov’s demise, on July 16th Tamerlan flew to Moscow from Mineralnyie Vody’s airport in Stavropol, and on July 17th flew back to the US. Here Novaya gazeta journalist Irina Gordienko notes that she was unable to confirm this last piece of information, implying that the rest was confirmed through other sources.[45]

At this point, the FSB sent its second inquiry to the US – this time the CIA – asking Langley to check Tamerlan’s activity and contacts in the US and send this information to Moscow, but the CIA never responded.  Within days, according to the article, Tamerlan’s case file disappeared from the Dagestan TsEPE’s archive.  The TsEPE source concludes that the evidence suggests Tamerlan traveled to Dagestan to make contact with the mujahedin but did not succeed because the latter requires an unidentified period of “quarantine” to check prospective recruits before accepting them into the CE.[46]  Nidal’s and Plotnikov’s fate left Tamerlan without contacts, and he was frightened and so absconded abroad.

Plotnikov and/or Nidal may have been the contact or contacts pursuing Tamerlan’s joining the CE’s auxiliary as a facilitator, specifically a courier.  As early as 2011 Tsarnaev is reported by one source to have engaged elements within or tied to the CE in discussions over becoming a CE courier, according to an anonymous Russian law enforcement official, but those discussions ended, “perhaps when his contacts were killed during his visit” to Dagestan.[47]  Plotnikov would have been the only one among Tamerlan’s three possible CE connections with whom Tamerlan had ties in 2011.

The Dolgatov Connection

The British Daily Mail, FOX News’ Catherine Herridge, and other news sources have reported that Russian government sources contacted the CIA about six months ago before the Boston attack – in October 2012 – that Tamerlan met with Dolgatov six times in the Kotrov Street mosque in Makhachkala.[48] Journalistic reporting confirms that Tamerlan visited the Salafi-visited Kotrova mosque numerous times during his stay.[49]  As noted above, it was two of Dolgatov’s videos that Tamerlan posted on his YouTube page after returning from Dagestan in July 2012.  Dolgatov was killed in late December along with six other mujahedin in a shootout in Dagestan – on the eve of Tamerlan’s move to carry out a jihadi attack.[50]  Thus, while Americans were boisterously celebrating the New Year, Tamerlan may have been sulking over the death of his last CE contact.  Right around the time they were moving towards an attack in February 2013, videotapes propagandizing amir ‘Abu Dujan’ Dolgatov were prominent on VDagestan.com.  One of Dolgatov’s videos and a video eulogy to ‘Abu Dujan’ Dolgatov made by unidentified “Arabs” were featured on the DV’s website VDagestan.com at the time of the attack and remained there until at least June 20th.[51]  Although Tamerlan’s ties to Dolgatov (like those with Plotnikov) are not as certain as they are to Nidal and need further confirmation, Tamerlan at the very least clearly was inspired indirectly by the DV’s Rabbanikala amir if not directly.  In sum, Dolgatov and/or Nidal and/or Plotnikov could have been the direct inspiration and/or the operational tie between the CE and the Tsarnaevs.

Operational Connection

Much has been made by all those who do not study the CE of a suspicious denial of any connection to the Tsarnaevs issued by the DV on its official website, VDagestan.com.  That denial would seem to exclude the possibility of a CE/DV operational tie to the attack.  Specifically, on April 21st the DV high command denied having “combat operations in the United States” or any connection to the Tsarnaev brothers and claimed uncharacteristically to be fighting only Russia and adhering to amir Umarov’s January 2012 ban on targeting civilians.[52]

However, this statement needs to be taken with a hefty grain of salt for several reasons.  First, there is at least one very good reason for the DV to issue a false denial.  In 2010, a DV Internet posting declared intent to attack the February 2014 Winter Olympic Games to be held in Sochi, Krasnodar in the North Caucasus.  Therefore, the denial could be intended to disinform the Russian and U.S. authorities, so as to prevent them from stepping up their efforts unilaterally and bilaterally to secure the Games and/or other sites in Russia or elsewhere that are certainly being targeted.  Clearly, the DV would have an interest in maintaining a low profile while plans for an attack connected to the Games are still in motion.

Second, one or more of the possible CE operational contacts – Dolgatov, Nidal, and Plotnikov – could have been acting on his or their own without informing the DV command about their plans for Tamerlan.  With all three having been killed by December 2012 the DV command may have been left unaware of any connection between DV mujahedin and Tamerlan and his plans – hence, its denial of responsibility.  The CE, like most jihadi organizations are highly decentralized, loosely-coupled networks, and the higher ranks have little communication with the lower ranks.  In the CE, the central command and even the DV or main sectors’ commands would have little contact with their sectors no less individual combat jamaats and mujahedin.

Third, the denial could have been an attempt to avoid tension with CE amir Dokku ‘Abu Usman’ Umarov given possible leadership competition between the pre-eminent DV and the CE NV Chechens’ decline.

Fourth, a strategic operation abroad such as the Boston Marathon attack would have required requesting or receiving Umarov’s approval; something those in the DV command or a lower-standing amir like Dolgatov might have found difficult or not worth risking to obtain, given the need to maintain secrecy and the possibilities of Umarov rejecting the plot or attempting to coopt it as his own and take credit for the foreign operation if it was major successful.

Fifth, one day before the DV’s denial of any connection to Tamerlan, there was announcement on the same website – the DV’s VDagestan.com – that the website’s administration had been removed and a new one had been put in its place.[53]  The fact that this announcement came one day before the issuance of the much-touted denial raises the possibility that a conflict occurred within the DV and/or VDagestan.com’s management over whether or not to issue the denial, remain silent, or claim responsibility.

Sixth, there are several clearly false assertions in the statement of denial. Specifically, the DV’s claims that the CE is fighting Russia alone and that it adheres to Umarov’s ban on civilians are clearly false. The first claim contradicts years of statements by CE amir Umarov and other CE ideologists to the contrary, that I have documented in IIPER and elsewhere, including the very declaration that founded the CE made by amir Umarov in October 2007.  The Dagestani qadi of the CE’s Shariah Court, Abu Mukhammad ad-Dagestani, stated most explicitly in July 2011: “We are doing everything possible to build the Caliphate and prepare the ground for this to the extent of our capabilities.”[54]  For a group fighting Russia and only Russia, its operatives oddly enough have been involved in several plots outside Russia mentioned above.  The foiled DV Azerbaijan plot to carry out a series of attacks around the May 2012 Eurovision music festival in Baku and elsewhere in Azerbaijan not only targeted a country other than Russia but civilians as well, contradicting Umarov’s supposed ban on targeting civilians.  Moreover, the Azerbaijan Jamaat and plots were organized by the very ‘DV command’ that issued the denial of any connection to Tamerlan.  Amir ‘Salikh’ Ibragim Khalil Daudov – who appointed and sent to Azerbaijan the amir of the CE DV’s Azerbaijan Jamaat, ‘Busra Zakatalinskii’ Padarov, to lead the planned operations – was the predecessor of the DV amir at the time of the Boston attack, ‘Abu Mukhammad’ Rustem Asildarov.  At the time of Zakalatinskii’s sendoff, Asildarov was amir Daudov’s first naib (deputy amir) in the DV.  In the postmortem video tribute to Zakatalinskii mentioned above, Daudov can be seen announcing the dispatch of Zakatalinskii to Azerbaijan with Zakatalinskii sitting to his right and Asildarov sitting to his left.[55]

Finally, it has been suggested by some U.S. lawmakers and terrorism experts that aspects of the Tsarnaevs’ tactics and weapons use – in particular the sophistication of the pressure cooker bombs they produced – reflected a skill-level obtainable only with outside support.[56]  Such support could have been arranged in Dagestan by one of the three possible CE DV contacts and/or by someone in the U.S. working for the global jihadi revolutionary movement, perhaps someone from the mosque of the Boston Islamic Society attended by both brothers, most often by Tamerlan.  However, to date there is no evidence of training, funding, or other material support of the Tsarnaevs provided by others, and Jokhar has told investigators from his hospital bed that they learned to construct pressure cooker bombs from AQ’s Inspire magazine article ‘Make a Bomb in Your Mom’s Kitchen.’[57]

The CE’s Global Aspect and the Attack on the U.S. Homeland

One hard question analysts and policymakers need to ask themselves is the following one.  Since the Tsarnaevs were inspired by the CE (not to mention if they were recruited), why did they decide to attack the U.S.?  Why would Tamerlan be trying to join the CE in 2012 but end up attacking the U.S. the next year?  The answer may be fund in the common influence the CE and the global jihadi ideology had on the Tsarnaevs and other radical Muslims.  That they were influenced by both is no accident.  As I have documented exhaustively, the CE is part of a global jihadi revolutionary movement and alliance that includes AQ and a myriad of affiliates and other allies; CE websites are filled with global jihadi propaganda; and Umarov and other CE leaders, who define the CE’s theology and ideology, have explicitly stated their support for AQ and other groups in the global jihadi movement numerous times.

Yet, in the aftermath of the Boston attack journalists and academics alike continued to misinform and disinform the American people and policymakers about the CE’s theo-ideology and goals and persisted in not mentioning the CE by name.  In particular, they drew the false distinction between the CE’s goals or its ‘local’ nature, on the one hand, and the global jihadi revolutionary movement, on the other.  They also denuded the CE’s struggle of all religious content and willfully neglect its leaders’ numerous statements in support of building a global caliphate.  One New York Times journalist refers to the CE DV’s jihad as “warfare against the police” and “fighting against the police.”[58]  This reductionist characterization removes the CE’s religious motivation and goals and ignores the hundreds of civilians, civilian officials, and Islamic clergy killed by the DV mujahedin in Dagestan.  The Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison wrote: “The Islamist underground in Russia’s Caucasus is focused on creating an independent Islamic state and doesn’t share the global ambitions of some international terror groups.”[59]  More egregiously, Jokhar’s former professor, Brian Glyn Williams still insists that the CE and its predecessor organization, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya have little or nothing to do with AQ and the global jihad.  He does so by countering a straw man argument (Chechens are a tool of AQ) as well as data that are more than a decade old and that address only the issue of Chechens fighting on other fronts in the global jihad and not the latter’s influence on the North Caucasus and the CE.  He also refers readers – most of whom would be non-Russian speakers – to the CE’s main website, Kavkaz tsentr, as an authoritative source for understanding the ‘Chechens’ “worldview,” despite the fact that the site’s Russian-language, Arab-language, and Turkic-language pages are filled with AQ, global jihadi and anti-American propaganda.[60]  He even claims that Chechens (which for unclear reasons he seems to conflate with the CE) “emulate George Washington.”[61]  I have seen thousands of articles on CE websites, many by or about AQ and other global jihadi groups; I have never seen even one praising George Washington.  Although there are bound to be a few, I have never seen even a single article about George Washington written by any Chechen or North Caucasian.  Even Robert W. Schaefer, one of the very few analysts who does not deny the CE’s ties to the global jihadi revolutionary movement and alliance, doubted any connection between the ‘Chechen insurgency’ and the Tsarnaevs, albeit after a leading question from a journalist:

Journalist: Nevertheless, it’s very hard to see what the point of an attack like the Boston Marathon bombings would be for the Chechen insurgency.

Schaefer: I agree with you. I think those boys were probably used by somebody. They were probably told they were supporting one cause, and who knows if the people who were using them had anything to do with that cause?[62]

In fact, the only distinction between most local jihadists, including the CE, and the global jihad is chronological. As one Syrian Jabhat al-Nusrah mujahed said: “The first duty on us is to fight the kuffar among us here in the occupied Muslim lands.  The next duty will be decided later.”[63]  The CE mujahedin say the same, and the ‘next duty’ is to fight the ‘infidel’ on another front.

Thus, Tamerlan was not only enamored with the CE’s jihad but also with the global jihad so amply advertised on CE websites and official statements.  For example, he “was partial to the Internet sermons of the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki,” the Al Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula who initiated several attempted and successful attacks against the U.S. homeland including the Fort Hood, Texas mass shooting.  Awlaki’s lectures populate much of the CE’s website space and one of his sites opened up a Russian-language page in cooperation with the CE site Islamdin.com, which was used by a CE-tied cell plotting to attack NATO targets in Belgium uncovered in September 2010.[64]  Thus, when Tamerlan changed his emphasis from the CE DV to the global jihad in his two discussions with his cousin and his Salafists from the Union of the Just, he was more focused on where to undertake an attack rather than on making some false choice of inspiration and allegiance between the CE DV and the global jihad.[65]  His permanent resident status in the U.S. made it easier in the end to attack here.


There is no doubt that the CE and the global jihad it carries forth inspired the Tsarnaevs’ attack and played a major role in their theo-ideological radicalization, having a particularly strong impact on Tamerlan.  He would not have sought to join the CE, if he was not inspired by the Caucasus mujahedin.  Direct influence also seems likely, given Tamerlan’s all but conclusively confirmed ties to one or more of the CE DV mujahedin; contact with Nidal seems almost certain to have been made.  The jury is still out on CE DV support for the Tsarnaevs or their attack, and no evidence of any has surfaced thus far.

It appears that either the Salafists succeeded in convincing Tamerlan not to join up with the CE’s Dagestan Vilaiyat mujahedin or that his CE contacts did not trust him and/or wanted more time to vet him.  Jihadi groups tend to thoroughly check the background and test the loyalty of new recruits, given the intelligence service’s efforts to infiltrate them, and Tamerlan may simply not have had the time to remain in Russia any longer due to visa or family issues, leaving him in limbo between the ‘forest’ of the CE DV jihad and Cambridge.  Another possible explanation is that he panicked and fled Russia after the second of his contacts was killed two days before his departure from Dagestan.  In attacking the U.S., Tamerlan, if he actually planned to survive his venture, could have been trying to demonstrate his jihadi credentials to the CE that had rejected or delayed his recruitment.

The Tsarnaev brothers’ Chechen but especially Muslim Dagestani heritage were also fateful for both, but especially the elder Tamerlan, given his visit to the republic (Jokhar reportedly was planning a visit this summer) and Islamist radicalization after stepping up the role of Islam in his life.  One wonders whether the fates of Plotnikov and Tamerlan would have been different if they had visited Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan instead; Plotnikov’s mother was an ethnic Tatar.[66]

Finally, as long as false distinction between the CE and the global jihadi revolutionary movement remains part of our discourse, the U.S., Russia and the rest of the international community stands at greater risk of such attacks.  Although an attack on the U.S. homeland sponsored or perpetrated by the CE is unlikely, the CE’s general jihadist anti-infidelism that includes overt anti-Americanism makes an attack on U.S. interests abroad a possibility especially if the target was simultaneously Russia-relevant.  The February 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and/or the Syrian civil war could offer some targets of opportunity.

The Syrian civil war is witnessing an influx of North Caucasian fighters, many of whom likely fought for the CE; all of whom are certainly inspired by it. Umar al-Shishani, a Chechen from Chechnya, is the amir of the thousand-strong ‘Jeish Mukhajirin va Ansar’ brigade, a major force within the jihadi wing of the Syrian rebels fighting Bashir Assad’s regime. Thus, it is no coincidence that Jokhar’s ‘VKontakte’ page linked to videos that are prevalent on CE websites on Assad’s war atrocities in Syria.  More importantly, the CE DV, as I have reported numerous times in IIPER, has pledged to attack the Winter Olympics to be held in February in Sochi located in Russia’s North Caucasus.  The Syrian rebels could acquire Assad’s chemical weapons and transfer some to the many fighters from the North Caucasus fighting for them as their due reward.

There are now but eight months until the Sochi Games.



[1] I have been warning about the CE as a potential threat to the U.S., the West, and the international community since at least 2006.  A few of those warnings can be found in: Gordon M. Hahn, “The Perils of Putin’s Policies,” The Journal of International Security Affairs, No. 10, Spring 2006, pp. 63-71, www.securityaffairs.org/issues/2006/10/hahn.php, p. 70; Gordon M. Hahn, Russia’s Islamic Threat (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 221-23, 234, and 240; Gordon M. Hahn, “Anti-Americanism, Anti-Westernism, and Anti-Semitism Among Russia’s Muslims,” Demokratizatsiya, Vol. 16, No. 1, Winter 2008, 49-60, at p. 55; Gordon M. Hahn, Getting the Caucasus Emirate Right (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 2011), http://csis.org/files/publication/110930_Hahn_GettingCaucasusEmirateRt_Web.pdf, p. 25; Gordon M. Hahn, “How Global Jihadism Came to Russia’s North Caucasus, Fair Observer, 12 July 2012, www.fairobserver.com/article/global-jihadism-comes-russia’s-north-caucasus; Gordon M. Hahn, “The Caucasus Emirate Jihadists: The Security and Strategic Implications,” in Stephen J. Blank, ed., Russia’s Homegrown Insurgency: Jihad in the North Caucasus (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, October 2012), pp. 1-98, www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/PUB1116.pdf, at pp. 62-64; and Gordon M. Hahn, “The Caucasus Emirate Goes Global,” Stratfor, 8 November 2012, www.stratfor.com/other-voices/caucasus-emirate-goes-global. The earliest warning about the threat may have been in a 2005 article, but I do not have a copy handy; see Gordon M. Hahn, “The Rise of Islamist Extremism in Kabardino-Balkariya” Demokratizatsiya, Vol. 13, No. 4, Fall 2005, pp. 543-594. The above list include neither my articles on http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com nor 10-20 or more articles in my e-journal Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report (http://csis.org) and elsewhere in which I noted CE amir Umarov’s declaration of the CE in which he declared jihad against the U.S., Britain, Israel, and any country fighting Muslims anywhere and/or in which I also warned of the CE threat to the U.S., the West, and the international community.

[2] Brian Glyn Williams, “The Missing Chechen Context on the Boston Tragedy,” Huffington Post, 20 April 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-glyn-williams/the-missing-chechen-conte_b_3123592.html and Laura Miller, “Chechens: Legendary Tough Guys,” Salon, 20 April 2013, www.salon.com/2013/04/20/chechens_legendary_tough_guys/.

[3] “Fatva Sheikha Abu Mukhammada al’-Makdisi o fitne v Imarata Kavkaz,” Islam Umma, 9 September 2010, 10:44, http://islamumma.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1253:2010-09-10-07-35-03&catid=130&Itemid=485 and “Fatwa Sheikha Abu Mukhammada al’-Makdisi (da ukrepit ego Allakh),” Kavkaz tsentr, 10 September 2010, 20:55, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2010/09/10/75149.shtml.

[4] For details of the Azerbaijan plot, see Gordon M. Hahn, Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report (from here on cited as IIPER), Nos. 56 and 58, http://csis.org/files/publication/120507_Hahn_IIPER_56.pdf and http://csis.org/files/publication/120621_Hahn_IIPER_58.pdf.

[5] For details on the Putin assassination plot, see Gordon M. Hahn, IIPER, No. 53, 12 March 2012, http://csis.org/files/publication/120312_Hahn_IIPER53.pdf.

[6] For details on the Spanish plot, see Gordon M. Hahn, IIPER, No. 60.

[7] “United States v. Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev,” United States District Court, District of Massachusetts, 27 June 2013, p. 4, http://cache.boston.com/multimedia/2013/06/27indictment/tsarnaev.pdf.

[8] Jake Tapper and Matt Smith, “Source: Boston bomb suspect says brother was brains behind attack,” CNN, 23 April 2013, 0242 GMT, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/22/us/boston-attack/index.html?hpt=hp_t1.

[9] See, for example, Akhmed Magomedov and Karina Gadzhiev, “Uchastniki mitinga v Makhachkale zayavili ob ignorirovanii vlastyami ikh trebovanii,” Kavkaz uzel, 9 February 2013, 17:33, http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/219880/ and “Massovoi miting v Makhachkale vyzval bolshoi resonans v sotssetyakh I blogakh,” Kavkaz uzel,  27 November 2011, 06:40, http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/196521/.

[10] See “Suspect in Boston Bombing Talked Jihad in Russia,” New York Times, 10 May 2013.

[11] Simon Shuster, “Exclusive: Dagestani Relative of Tamerlan Tsarnaev Is a Prominent Islamist,” Time, 8 May 2013, http://news.yahoo.com/exclusive-dagestani-relative-tamerlan-tsarnaev-prominent-islamist-171006979.html.

[12] David Filipov and Bryan Bender, “Bombers could have been thwarted, Keating reports,” Boston Globe, 31 May 2013, http://b.globe.com/15o8Rgd .

[13] Simon Shuster, “Older Boston Suspect Made Two Trips to Dagestan, Visited Radical Mosque, Officials Say,” Time, 22 April 2013, http://world.time.com/2013/04/22/tsarnaev-in-dagestan/.

[14] Shuster, “Exclusive: Dagestani Relative of Tamerlan Tsarnaev Is a Prominent Islamist.”

[15] Cited in Muhammad Hussein, “Dimensions of Multiculturalism: Killings, Bombings and Free Speech,” Veterans Today, 27 May 2013, http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/05/27/dimensions-of-multiculturalism-killings-bombings-and-free-speech/.

[16] Suleiman Beshto, “They will spend it; then it will be for them a regret… they will be overcome,” Kavkaz tsentr, 11 September 2011, 18:12, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/eng/content/2011/09/11/15120.shtml.

[17] Beshto, “They will spend it; then it will be for them a regret… they will be overcome.”

[18] Eric Schmitt, Mark Mazzetti, Michael S. Schmidt and Scott Shane, “Boston Plotters Said to Initially Target July 4 for Attack,” New York Times, 2 May 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/us/Boston-bombing-suspects-planned-july-fourth-attack.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130503&_r=0 and “Suspect in Boston Bombing Talked Jihad in Russia.”

[19] Lesley Clark, “‘This is nothing we would ever expect,’ friends say of Dzhokhar, Tamerlan Tsarnaev,” McClatchy, 19 April 2013, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/04/19/189140/this-is-nothing-we-would-ever.html#storylink=cpy.

[20] For a rough translation of the video, see “Rough Translation of Video Posted by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,” The Investigative Project, 19 April 2013,  www.investigativeproject.org/3982/rough-translation-of-video-posted-by-dzhokhar, citing Jokhar Tsarnaev’s VKontakt webpage, http://vk.com/id160300242?z=video160300242_14%2Fstatus#/id160300242?z=video160300242_164905736%2Fvideos160300242.

[21] David Remnick, “The Culprits,” New Yorker, 29 April 2013, http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2013/04/29/130429ta_talk_remnick?mbid.

[22] Erica Fink and Laurie Segall, “Reconstructing the trail of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s deleted Instagram account,” CNN, 29 April 2013, 1455 GMT, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/26/tech/tsarnaev-instagram-account/index.html?iref=allsearch.

[23] Scott Shane, “Boston Suspects’ Confused Identities and Conflicting Loyalties,” New York Times, 20 April 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/us/boston-suspects-confused-identities-and-conflicting-loyalties.html?ref=scottshane&gwh=E309D333CBCA621AD3D9034C240FC5A4 and Steve Urbon, “UMD professor: ‘I hope I didn’t contribute’,” South Coast Today, 20 April 2013, 1:55 AM, http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=%2F20130420%2FNEWS%2F304200341.

[24]  Brian Glyn Williams, “Thoughts on the ‘Jihadification’ of Boston Bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev,” Huffington Post, 25 April 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-glyn-williams/thoughts-on-the-jihadific_b_3156888.html.

[25] “United States v. Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev,” United States District Court, District of Massachusetts, p. 6.

[26] Ryan Parry, “My Boyfriend the Bomber,” The Sun, 29 April 2013, http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4906994/my-boyfriend-the-bomber.html.

[27] Alan Cullison, Paul Sonne, Anton Troianovski and David George-Cosh, “Turn to Religion Split Suspects’ Home,” Wall Street Journal, 22 April 2013.

[28] “Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev left note inside boat,” Fox News, 16 May 2013, www.foxnews.com/us/2013/05/16/boston-bombing-suspect-dzhokhar-tsarnaev-reportedly-left-note-inside-boat/.

[29] Schmitt, Mazzetti, Schmidt and Shane, “Boston Plotters Said to Initially Target July 4 for Attack”.

[30] “Zhurnal ‘Vdokhnovlai’: ‘Sdelai bombu v Maminoi kukhne’,” Islamdin.com, 3 December 2010, http://www.islamdin.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=992:2010-12-03-10-29-08&catid=43:2010-11-25-17-50-11&Itemid=33.

[31] Cullison, Sonne, Troianovski and George-Cosh, “Turn to Religion Split Suspects’ Home”.

[32] Kirit Radia, “No ‘Manifesto’ But New Clues to Frustrated Boston Suspect: Sources,” ABC News, 24 May 2013, http://news.yahoo.com/no-manifesto-clues-frustrated-boston-suspect-sources-153724994–abc-news-topstories.html.

[33] Irina Gordienko, “’Bostonskii vzryvatel’ bylo davno zaryazhen,” Novaya gazeta, No. 47, 29 April 2013, http://www.novayagazeta.ru/inquests/57925.html.

[34] Gordienko, “’Bostonskii vzryvatel’ bylo davno zaryazhen.” This was corroborated by another journalist. See Anna Nemtsova, “Inside the Minds of Russia’s Black Widows,” The Daily Beast, 26 August 2013, 4:45 AM, www.thedailybeast.com/witw/articles/2013/08/26/a-mother-s-despair-chechen-and-dagestani-mothers-radicalize-after-losing-sons-and-husbands-to-war-with-russia.html.

[35] “Nidal’ Mansur Makhmud,” Kavkaz uzel, 23 May 2013, 15:23, http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/224594/.

[36] Nemtsova, “Inside the Minds of Russia’s Black Widows.”

[37] Gordienko, “’Bostonskii vzryvatel’ bylo davno zaryazhen” and “Nidal’ Mansur Makhmud”.

[38] Filipov and Bender, “Bombers could have been thwarted, Keating reports”.

[39] Schmitt, Mazzetti, Schmidt and Shane, “Boston Plotters Said to Initially Target July 4 for Attack”.

[40] Gordienko, “’Bostonskii vzryvatel’ bylo davno zaryazhen”.

[41] Gordienko, “’Bostonskii vzryvatel’ bylo davno zaryazhen”.

[42] Gordienko, “’Bostonskii vzryvatel’ bylo davno zaryazhen”.

[43] “V gorakh Dagestana ubit modzhakhed bokser iz Kanady Vil’yam Plotnikov,” VDagestan.com, 16 July 2012, http://vdagestan.com/v-gorax-dagestana-ubit-modzhaxed-bokser-iz-kanady-vilyam-plotnikov.djihad and “Ustanovleny lichnosti vsekh semerykh unichtozhennykh v Dagestane boevikov,” RIA Novosti, 15 July 2012, 11:58, http://ria.ru/defense_safety/20120715/700040315.html and http://ria.ru/defense_safety/20120715/700040315.html#ixzz20uYo86bU.

[44] “V gorakh Dagestana ubit modzhakhed bokser iz Kanady Vil’yam Plotnikov.”

[45] “V gorakh Dagestana ubit modzhakhed bokser iz Kanady Vil’yam Plotnikov.”

[46] Gordienko, “’Bostonskii vzryvatel’ bylo davno zaryazhen”.

[47] “Suspect in Boston Bombing Talked Jihad in Russia”.

[48] Leslie Larson and Lydia Warren, “Russia asked FBI to investigate bomber just 6 months ago after being spotted with a ‘militant’ on trip to Dagestan: Was it this known terrorist who Boston killer liked on YouTube?,” The Daily Mail, 21 and 22 April 2013, http://www.dailymal.co.uk/news/article-2312496/Tamerlan-Tsarnaev-Russia-asked-FBI-investigate-Boston-bomber-just-6-MONTHS-ago.html and Catherine Herridge, “Investigators explore possible link between Boston bombing suspect and extremist group,” Fox News, 20 April 2013, www.foxnews.com/us/2013/04/20/investigators-explore-possible-link-between-boston-bombing-suspect-and/.

[49] Shuster, “Older Boston Suspect Made Two Trips to Dagestan, Visited Radical Mosque, Officials Say”.

[50] “Kafiry soobshayut o shakhade, insha Allah, y mudzhakhedov i Amira Abu Dudzhany v Shamil’kale,” VDagestan.com, 29 December 2012, http://vdagestan.com/kafiry-soobshhayut-o-shaxade-insha-allax-7-mudzhaxidov-i-amira-abu-dudzhany-v-shamilkale.djihad.

[51] The videos were posted on the website’s first page without a separate page and thus without their own URL. However, they were available on YouTube. See YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=YjEBkIZhEGU#! and YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=naccW6NJKE0, last accessed 2 June 2013.

[52] “Zayavlenie v svyazi s sobitiyami v Bostone, VDagestan.com, 21 April 2013, http://vdagestan.com/zayavlenie-v-svyazi-s-sobytiyami-v-bostone-ssha.djihad.

[53] “Ob”yavlenie o smene administrator saita,” VDagestan.com, 20 April 2013, http://vdagestan.com/obyavlenie-o-smene-administratora-sajta.djihad.

[54] “Stennogramma video: Kadii IK Abu Mukhammad – ‘Otvety na voprosy’ – 1 chast’,” Guraba.info, 8 July 2011, 00:18, http://guraba.info/2011-02-27-17-59-21/30-video/1117–i-q-q-1-.html and VDagestan.info, 8 July 2011, http://vdagestan.info/2011/07/08/%d0%ba%d0%b0%d0%b4%d0%b8%d0%b9-%d0%b8%d0%ba-%d0%b0%d0%b1%d1%83-%d0%bc%d1%83%d1%85i%d0%b0%d0%bc%d0%bc%d0%b0%d0%b4-%d0%be%d1%82%d0%b2%d0%b5%d1%82%d1%8b-%d0%bd%d0%b0-%d0%b2%d0%be%d0%bf%d1%80%d0%be/.

[55] See YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=R4T_Nlm8_R0.

[56] See, for example, Scott Shane and David M. Herszenhorn, “Agents Pore Over Suspect’s Trip to Russia,” New York Times, 28 April 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/us/tamerlan-tsarnaevs-contacts-on-russian-trip-draw-scrutiny.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. Others are convinced the Tsarnaevs constructed the devices themselves without outside assistance despite some substituted parts. See Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Mark Hosenball, “Investigators believe Boston bombs likely made at Tsarnaev’s home,” Reuters, 3 May 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/03/us-usa-explosions-boston-idUSBRE9420ZO20130503.

[57] Schmitt, Mazzetti, Schmidt and Shane, “Boston Plotters Said to Initially Target July 4 for Attack.”

[58] “Suspect in Boston Bombing Talked Jihad in Russia.”

[59] Alan Cullison, “Dagestan Islamists Were Uneasy About Boston Bombing Suspect,” Wall Street Journal, 10 May 2013.  Other articles draw too sharp a contrast between the CE and the goals of the global jihad, ignoring the fact that at the point Tamerlan changed emphasis from the CE DV and the global jihad he may have been more focused on what target to attack rather than establishing a firm commitment to one or the other, which is, as I have noted an artificial distinction. See “Suspect in Boston Bombing Talked Jihad in Russia” and Simon Shuster, “Exclusive: Dagestani Relative of Tamerlan Tsarnaev Is a Prominent Islamist,” Time, 8 May 2013, http://news.yahoo.com/exclusive-dagestani-relative-tamerlan-tsarnaev-prominent-islamist-171006979.html.

[60]  Brian Glyn Williams, “Thoughts on the ‘Jihadification’ of Boston Bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev,” Huffington Post, 25 April 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-glyn-williams/thoughts-on-the-jihadific_b_3156888.html.

[61] Brian Glyn Williams, “The Missing Chechen Context on the Boston Tragedy,” Huffington Post, 20 April 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-glyn-williams/the-missing-chechen-conte_b_3123592.html.

[62] Laura Miller, “Chechens: Legendary Tough Guys,” Salon, 20 April 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/04/20/chechens_legendary_tough_guys/.

[63] “An interview with Jabhat al-Nusra,” The Economist, 23 May 2013, 18:33, http://www.economist.com/blogs/pomegranate/2013/05/syrias-fighters-0.

[64] “Suspect in Boston Bombing Talked Jihad in Russia.”

[65] “Suspect in Boston Bombing Talked Jihad in Russia.”

[66] Simon Shuster, “The Boston-Bomber Trail: Fresh Clues in Rural Dagestan,” Time, 29 April 2013, http://world.time.com/2013/04/29/picking-up-the-boston-bomber-trail-in-utamysh-russia/.


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