Why the Boston Marathon Bombers May Have Attacked

Now that the two suspects Monday’s horrific bombing have been identified, attention turns to their motive. Why would two brothers originally from the troubled region of Chechnya, a republic of Russia, detonate bombs in Boston on Patriot's Day?


Here is a very raw, very quick, very preliminary first thought.

Though it hasn’t been in the news lately, Chechnya dominated headlines in the 1990s as a Muslim region in the former Soviet Union that endured two bloody wars of independence. Chechens wanted autonomy from Russia, which agreed to a peace treaty and substantial Chechen independence in 1996 but then reasserted its influence and increased its antiterrorist measures in the region. Conflicts with Russian authorities continued into the 2000s, with Russia using the American response to 9/11 as justification for a campaign of torture, murder and civilian displacements in a cruel clampdown on the Chechen population.

As Elisabeth Bagot points out in the Stanford Journal of International Relations, U.S ambivalence in the Russo-Chechen wars is something of a puzzle. Given its efforts in other regions of the world to promote human rights and spread democracy -- however ineffectively -- the United States' blase stance toward Chechnya seemed out of place:

[W]hen the Russo-Chechen wars broke out in response to Chechen separatist movements in 1994 and again in 1999 on the soil of a nation in which the United States has spent over half a century promoting democracy (or containing communism), it came as a surprise that the United States failed to react with the level of gusto to which the international community had grown accustomed. In fact, the United States waited an entire month to even acknowledge that Russian actions in Chechnya—the torture, murder and rape of civilians, the creation of filtration camps, the slaughter of tens of thousands of Chechens, etc.—had violated international norms. Subsequently, the strongest reaction to come out of the United States has been the occasional rhetorical appeal for peace in Chechnya. It has not imposed economic sanctions, proposed the suspension of Russia’s membership in international institutions, or intervened militarily. Its failure to take a stronger stance on Chechnya, translating into tacit approval of Russia’s behavior, remains baffling to this day.

Highly speculative, first-impression bottom line: While U.S. military meddling in the Muslim world is often cited as a main trigger for terrorism, the attack against Boston on Patriot’s Day may be the first terrorist assault on the United States by individuals who were upset that the American government wasn’t doing enough to intervene militarily abroad.

Read on: A Marathon is Not a Blood Sport

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