April 23, 2013

Officials continue to build profiles of bombing suspects

Eileen Sullivan and Lara Jakes / The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sought to embrace American lives after emigrating from Russia – joining a boxing club, winning a scholarship and even seeking U.S. citizenship. But their uncle last week angrily called them "losers" who failed to feel settled even after a decade of living in the United States.

The disparity between the brothers' struggle to assimilate in the U.S. and their alleged bombing of the Boston Marathon reflects what counterterror experts describe as a classic pattern of young first- or second-generation immigrants striking out after struggling to fit in. The U.S. has long been worried about people in America who are not tied to any designated terrorist group but who are motivated by ideologies that lead them to commit violent acts. Some are motivated by radical religious interpretations; others feel ostracized by their communities.

Three U.S. officials involved in the investigation said the brothers had no links to any terrorist groups. After interrogating Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Monday, U.S. officials have concluded, based on a preliminary interrogation and other evidence, that they were motivated by their faith, apparently an anti-American, radical version of Islam. Another official called them aspiring jihadists. All three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a police shootout Friday. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged Monday with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill, and he could face the death penalty if convicted.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was an ardent reader of jihadist websites and extremist propaganda, two of the officials said. He frequently looked at extremist sites, including Inspire magazine, an English-language online publication produced by al-Qaida's Yemen affiliate. The magazine has endorsed lone-wolf terror attacks.

The psychological aspects of radicalization have been studied for years, and while there are some similarities among terrorism cases, there is not a single profile of a violent extremist in the U.S.

Complicating the challenge is that the threat often is rooted in an ideology protected by the Constitution.

Violent extremists can feel caught between two worlds – the one their families left behind to seek better opportunities, and the other in which they feel trapped.

On the Russian social networking site Vkontakte, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev described his world view as "Islam" but his personal goals as "career and money" – a far more capitalistic goal than Muslim teachings that wealth ultimately belongs to God.

"There's a sort of weird identity crisis," said Kamran Bokhari, a Toronto-based expert on jihadism and radicalization for the global intelligence company Stratfor. "In many ways, these people are radicalized of extreme religious persuasions in the West that's not even reflective of what's back home. So they're sort of frozen in time, where they're rejecting the reality in front of them."

The brothers emigrated in 2002 or 2003 from Dagestan, a Russian republic that has become an epicenter of the Islamic insurgency that spilled over from the region of Chechnya.

It's still not clear what investigators believe motivated Tamerlan and Dzhokhar to attack.

The brothers' uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, vehemently dismissed any suggestion that the bombings — which killed three and wounded at least 180 — were motivated by religious views. He called the men "losers" who felt "hatred to those who were able to settle themselves."

"Anything else to do with religion, with Islam — it's a fraud, it's a fake," Tsarni told reporters. He said someone possibly "radicalized them, but not my brother who just moved back to Russia, who spent his life bringing bread to the table."

Tsarni also told reporters he hadn't spoken to his nephews in months.

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