Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev made plenty of headlines for their involvement in the Boston Marathon bombing. Mainstream media outlets on both sides of the political isle were wondering out loud: “How did they come here? How did they get in?” It’s a reasonable question that might puzzle anyone unfamiliar with the Department of Homeland Security’s approach towards Chechen immigrants. To get the answer, let’s examine the facts.
In the spring of 2011, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev e-mailed Massachusetts professor Professor Brian Glyn Williams with some questions, seeking to re-discover his own Chechen roots. Chechnya’s history is steeped in violence and marred by radical Islamic terrorism. Even Tamerlan’s name was linked to death and destruction. Tamerlane (who referred to himself as the Sword of Islam) was a successor to Genghis Khan, who was famous for his attempts to take over the world through murder and mayhem. He mercilessly tortured thousands, often buried them alive and even erected a pyramid of 90,000 enemy heads. During his reign of terror, Tamerlane was estimated to have caused the murder of the 5% of the population of the world (roughly 17 million people). His empire included the territory of modern day Chechnya.
The area itself has been a brewing cauldron of ethnic and religious turmoil for centuries. Since early 1800’s, Chechens acquired a reputation for unbridled violence, waging seemingly endless wars against Russian colonizers. The tensions reached a fevered pitch when Stalin deported Chechens to Siberia and Kazakhstan. After their separatist tendencies were perceived to have been rehabilitated, Chechens were allowed to return to their lands in 1957. The violence originating in the region continues to present day and includes bloody terrorist attacks perpetrated against Russians.
The region’s propensity for violence attracted a number of Islamist militants, including Arab fighters with links to Al Qaeda. They masterminded grisly terror attacks, including but not limited to the following:
- August 1999 – bombing of a shopping arcade;
- September 1999 - bombing of an apartment building in Moscow that killed 64 people;
- May 2002 - a bomb blast that killed at least 41 people, including 17 children, during a military parade in the southwestern town of Kaspiisk;
- October 2002 – the siege of Moscow's Dubrovka Theater, where approximately 700 people were attending a performance (more than 120 hostages were killed);
- December 2002 - dual suicide bombing that attacked the headquarters of Chechnya's Russian-backed government in Grozny (83 people were killed);
- September 2004 - an attack on a school in Beslan that caused the death of over 380 people (most of them children);
- June 2004 - a three-day attack on Ingushetia, which killed almost 100 people and injured another 120;
- October 2005 – Chechen rebels assaulted government buildings, telecommunications facilities, and the airport in the southern Russian city of Nalchik, causing deaths of at least 85 people;
- November 2009 - an attack on the Nevsky Express train, which killed 27 people;
- March 2010 - the bombing of a metro station, when two female Chechen suicide bombers detonated bombs in a Moscow metro station, killing 39 people;
- March 2010 (two days after the metro station bombing), two bombs exploded in the town of Kizlyar, in Russia's North Caucasus, killing at least 12 people;
Islamist Chechen rebel leaders openly claimed responsibility for many of these attacks. Experts recognize several ties between the Al Qaeda network and Chechen terrorist groups.
On February 10, 2003, Enaam Arnaout, who is a U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty in Chicago, Illinois to illegally paying for supplies for Muslim rebels in Chechnya and troops in Bosnia, in exchange for the U.S. government dropping a charge accusing him of supporting Al Qaeda.
A Chechen warlord known as Khattab (who was killed in 2002) is said to have met with Osama bin Laden, while both of them were fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Shortly after September 11, 2001, U.S. ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow said, "We have long recognized that Osama bin Laden and other international networks have been fueling the flames in Chechnya, including the involvement of foreign commanders like Khattab." Osama bin Laden specifically chose Chechnya as a terrorist training camp because it’s an “area unreachable by strikes from the west.”
Russian authorities, including Vladimir Putin, have repeatedly stressed the involvement of international terrorists and Bin Laden associates in Chechnya. Russia's former defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, claimed that a videotape of Khattab meeting with bin Laden had been found in Afghanistan.
Zacarias Moussaoui, who was convicted for his involvement in the attacks of 9/11, was formerly "a recruiter for al-Qaeda-backed rebels in Chechnya." The Taliban regime in Afghanistan was one of the only governments to recognize Chechen independence.
By now you must be thinking: “Surely the Department of Homeland Security is looking very closely at anyone from that tumultuous region who tries to enter the U.S.” If you were in fact assuming that there was an additional level of scrutiny – think again. In spite of its ties to Al Qaeda and terrorism, the DHS didn’t even bother to add Chechnya to the list of Special Interest Countries (SIC).
American government officials ignored not only regional terror ties, but also very specific information related to Tamerlan Tsarnaev. In 2011, the Russian government contacted the FBI to report Tsarnaev’s connections to Chechen extremists. FBI officials half-heartedly questioned Tamerlan and let him go. The Department of Homeland Security couldn’t be bothered to deport Tamerlan Tsarnaev even after he was charged with domestic assault and battery for beating up his girlfriend.
Tamerlan was increasingly drawn to radical Islam, sharing videos of lectures from a radical Islamic cleric on his YouTube channel, as well as Arabic songs with recorded blasts of exploding bombs. His mother, Zubeidat K. Tsarnaeva, admitted her concerns over Tsarnaev’s growing involvement “in religious politics” that started five years ago. “He started following his own religious aspects. He never, never told me he would be on the side of jihad,” she added.
In 2012, Tamerlan Tsarnaev returned to Dagestan. Again, the Department of Homeland Security didn’t care to ask any questions, since by that time The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) was cancelled (believe it or not, the DHS found it too “burdensome”). The Patriot Act apparently didn’t play any part in observing international travel or the suspicious activities by Tsarnaev brothers (instead of detecting potential terrorists, it is being used almost exclusively against unsuspecting American citizens).
Brothers Tsarnaev were left entirely to their own devices, since both of their parents have abandoned their refugee status, leaving the United States. Father, Anzor Tsarnaev, returned to Russia. Mother also departed and would face criminal charges for shoplifting, if she were to ever come back.
There’s no telling how many of these Chechen terrorists have infiltrated the United States or how many opportunities the government has missed to protect the country by deporting them. Don’t count on the Department of Homeland Security to tell us much of anything. When she was asked about Saudi person, who was reportedly in custody of the DHS and scheduled to be deported, Janet Napolitano arrogantly said that the question was “just not worthy of an answer.”
She could have explained that according to the DHS, the said person is not the same Saudi student who was present at the time of the Boston bombing. Instead, Madam Napolitano rudely snapped at the irreverent South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan and refused to provide an explanation. That, in a nutshell, is the government’s attitude towards the rest of us, concerned citizens, whose questions and concerns are such an annoyance to powers-that-be. Take their irritation as a badge of honor and keep asking questions – then and only then do we stand the chance of finding out what’s being allowed to happen in this great country.
Amongst the jubilation of the moment, let us not forget that the threat remains and must be dealt with, on a daily basis – much as Israel and Russia do to protect their population. Let’s face the facts and learn our lessons from the best, to avoid another bloody massacre in a foreseeable future. Our lives depend upon our resolve and vigilance.
Read more stories by Julia Davis, Los Angeles Homeland Security Examiner