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Musa A Keilani: Massachusetts Marathon
April 24, 2013
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The first report that followed last week’s Boston bombings indicated that a Saudi national was the key suspect, but then it turned out that the man was considered only as a witness.

Israeli “intelligence” sources had earlier fuelled the fire by “disclosing” that the investigation has in fact homed in on a suspected “terror” cell of three Saudi nationals, very possibly tied to Al Qaeda.

According to the Israeli sources, the three shared a flat in the Revere, Massachusetts, near Boston, and it was searched after the questioning of the Saudi suspect who was hospitalised with badly burned hands after the bombings. One of his flat mates was taken into custody over “visa problems.” A third is on the run. All three hail from a prominent Saudi family belonging to a tribe from the Asir province bordering on Yemen, said the Israeli report.

The very fact that suspicion fell on Saudis underlines the stereotyping of Muslims and Arabs as terrorists in the US media, particularly after the Sept.11, 2001 bombings. That is the most disturbing part of the Boston bombings.

Mohammed Al Chalabi, Abu Sayyaf, the head of an extremist Jordanian Salafi group, contributed to the suggestions by saying he was “happy to see the horror in America…American blood isn’t more precious than Muslim blood.

“Let the Americans feel the pain we endured by their armies occupying Iraq and Afghanistan and killing our people there.”

Now all such “speculative and suggestive” reports pointing the finger at Arabs have been quashed with the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who is of Chechen origin and was found hiding in a boat in a suburban homeowner’s backyard after a massive lockdown in Boston. Earlier, his elder brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died of bullet wounds and injuries from explosives strapped to his body in a clash with police.

US President Barack Obama has promised to seek answers on what had motivated the bombers and whether they had help.

The Boston bombings brought forth the reality of the Chechen struggle for independence and the stage which it has reached over the past decade.

Media reports have revealed much about the lives of the two brothers, but the question of why they did it remains elusive.

Police have identified the Tsarnaev brothers as ethnic Chechens who had been living in America for about a decade.

The younger brother seemed to be a well-adjusted student, but the elder brother appeared to have been less well-adjusted, not quite fitting into American life or making friends.

They were part of Chechen refugees who emigrated from the troubled Caucasus region of southern Russia. The family is thought to have moved to the US in 2001, from the Russian republic of Dagestan and lived in the Massachusetts town of Cambridge, home to Harvard University.

The younger brother was awarded a scholarship to pursue further education; he wanted to become a brain surgeon, according to his father.

The elder brother was an amateur boxer who had reportedly taken time off college to train for a competition; he described himself as a “very religious” non-drinker and non-smoker.

Perhaps we could get some idea about their convictions if we take a quick look at the background of the Chechen problem:

The Independent reports:

During the 1990s Chechnya became a byword for carnage and the horrors of war as Moscow savagely bombed the small territory to prevent it splitting away from Russia. Boris Yeltsin’s army proved inept at warfare in the difficult terrain, however, and the region had a short period of lawless de facto independence from 1996-99, until the new president, Vladimir Putin, launched another war to bring the territory to heel once and for all.

He installed as leader Akhmad-Khadzhi Kadyrov, a local rebel who swapped sides to back the Kremlin. When he was killed by a bomb in 2004, his son Ramzan Kadyrov took over, and runs the republic to this day, using a mixture of generous handouts and brute force to quell violence in the region. Terrorist attacks, which used to be a regular occurrence, are now rare, and more frequent in the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan, where the father of the Tsarnaev brothers is believed to live.

Kadyrov took to his favoured platform for public statements, the social network Instagram, to say that any attempt to link the Tsarnaev brothers to Chechnya was unfair. “They grew up in America, their views and convictions were formed there,” he wrote. “The root of the evil should be sought in America.”

While there was always an Islamic element to the struggle, Chechens have traditionally followed a liberal, Sufi brand of Islam, and many of the leaders of the 1990s independence movement were secular. Even with the rapid growth of radical Islamism, with the horrific terrorist attack on schoolchildren at Beslan in 2004, and more recently on civilians at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in 2011, there has been a specifically anti-Russian bent to the terrorism. Those rebels who professed hardline jihadi ideas would often express admiration for the West and the United States.

That has changed as more Chechen fighters have travelled to jihadi training camps, and the region itself has become more radical. Kadyrov has led a campaign to enforce the wearing of headscarves by Chechen women, and has banned the sale of alcohol in the republic.

Oliver Bullough, the author of a history of the Caucasus, said: “During periods when state institutions have broken down or turn against them, the Chechens have traditionally turned to Islam to support them. This has been encouraged by the region’s pro-Moscow rulers as a means to bolster their own legitimacy, resulting in an Islamification race between the two factions.”

The Independent report might not be a very accurate picture, but it is the longing for independence by highlighting the Chechen struggle that seems to have prompted the Tsarnaev brothers to carry out the attacks. How exactly they hoped to do that remains ambiguous.

There are Chechens fighting in Syria, Afghanistan and other global conflicts, but until now they were not seen as a threat to US security. But the Boston bombings could change that.

With all manifestations of terror, many Palestinians and Arabs held their breath for several days in fear that the Boston bombers might turn out to be Arabs, and thus we would have witnessed a repeat of the 9/11 hysteria that stereotyped the Arabs and engulfed the American media then.
The author, a former Jordanian ambassador, is the
chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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