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Don’t Judge the Chechens

With the manhunt for second suspect in the Boston Marathon underway, historian Charles King urges caution against tying the brothers into any Chechen movement or history. Instead it seems we should see them as homegrown American terrorists.

The killing of one suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings and the ongoing hunt for another have focused attention on the motivations and background of the suspects themselves. The revelation that the brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev are of ethnic Chechen origin has led commentators to look to culture and history for clues about the sources of this week’s attack.

Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev in an image taken before the explosion at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (Handout/UPI, via Landov)

This angle is misguided, at least at this stage of the investigation and still-ongoing manhunt. In fact, any “Chechnya angle” to the story is overshadowed by the American one. The Tsarnaevs look much more like other homegrown terrorists—animal-rights extremists, white supremacists, anarchists, and lone-wolf ideologues—than like religious warriors fighting on a faraway and exotic frontier.

First, there is as yet no evidence that the Tsarnaev brothers were part of a network of insurgents connected with Chechnya or other areas of Russia’s North Caucasus region. That area—a land of rugged valleys and plains lying north of the Caucasus mountain range between the Black and Caspian seas—has long been a source of instability and concern for the Russian government.

Clues

A Link to al Qaeda?

One of the brothers killed in Boston’s overnight shootout appears to be a follower of Feiz Mohammad, a radical Muslim preacher with connections to al Qaeda. Eli Lake reports.

The alleged Boston Marathon bomber who was killed in a shootout early Friday morning with police was, according to what appears to be his social-media profile, a fan of the radical and ascetic brand of Islam associated with al Qaeda.

The YouTube page belonging to someone named Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the same name as one of the two brothers who allegedly dropped pressure-cooker bombs at the finish line of the marathon Monday, includes several links to videos from an Australian Muslim preacher who has called for the beheading of a Dutch politician.

Feiz Mohammad

Feiz Mohammad, an Australian former boxer of Lebanese descent who now preaches an extreme and ascetic version of Sunni Islam known as Salafism. (via Youtube.com)

The videos were sermons delivered by Feiz Mohammad, a former boxer of Lebanese descent who now preaches an extreme version of Sunni Islam known as Salafism. (Tsarnaev also appears to have been a boxer.) In 2007 Mohammed came under fire for a series of messages that called on young Muslims to become holy warriors. Three years later the Dutch press reported that Mohammad had called for the beheading of Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who has compared radical Islam to Nazi ideology.

Did al Qaeda ideology inspire the attack or were the two brothers driven by other motivations? Christopher Dickey, Eli Lake, and Daniel Klaidman report on the latest.

The Boston Marathon bombing was not another 9/11. Not close. The order of magnitude speaks for itself: three dead in Boston, nearly 3,000 in New York City. Still, in the aftermath of the Boston tragedy with what now appear to be links to conflicts half a world away in the Caucasus, it is impossible not to ask the same questions that came on the heels of 9/11: just how safe are we in our homes, in our workplaces, on our streets, and at our celebrations? Why on earth would the United States be targeted so often by so many people with so many grievances—why do “they” hate us? And given the destructive power now available to almost any lunatic, just how safe can we be?

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Investigators sift through evidence on Boylston Street, just up from the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, on April 18, 2013. (Winslow Townson/AP)

A blazing gun battle with police in a Boston suburb early Friday morning left little doubt as to the identity of the two main suspects in the marathon attack: two young brothers, 19 and 26, whose family originally came from Chechnya. During the fighting, they exploded bombs made from pressure cookers, much like the ones used to attack the marathon finish line. The elder, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died in the firefight. The younger, Dzhokhar, who identified himself on VKontakte, a Russian-language social-network site, as a 2011 graduate of the prestigious Cambridge Latin School, is still at large.  

As the investigation unfolded this week, federal and local authorities had become increasingly convinced that they were looking at an operation carried out by one or two individuals. One U.S. intelligence official who was regularly briefed on the investigation told Newsweek that he and his colleagues all but ruled out al Qaeda central or one of its affiliates giving direct and specific instructions for the attack. 

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Who Are the Tsarnaev Brothers?

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a police shootout. His brother Dzhokhar is on the run. Caitlin Dickson reports on their Internet history—and what it says about them.

The Tsarnaev brothers have been identified by law enforcement as primary suspects in the bombing attack of the Boston Marathon on April 15. Here is what their Internet history says about the two.

Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. (FBI, via Getty)

Tamerlan Tsarnaev: Suspect No. 1

Tamerlan, the elder of the two Tsarnaev brothers, was killed late Thursday night after a shootout with police in Watertown, outside Boston. Tamerlan, 26, was originally from Chechnya and a boxer. He was the subject of a photo essay by Johannes Hirn called “Will Box for Passport,” comprised of photos taken before Tamerlan participated in the national Golden Gloves competition in Salt Lake City. According to the essay, Tamerlan had taken a break from his engineering studies at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston to train for the competition. He and his family fled conflict in Chechnya in the early 1990s, living first in Kazakhstan before making it the United States in either 2002 or 2003. NBC News reports that Tamerlan became a legal, permanent resident in 2007. Tamerlan told Hirn at the time that winning enough fights could land him on the U.S. Olympic boxing team and make him a naturalized citizen. If he could not compete for an independent Chechnya, Tamerlan said he’d rather be on the American team than fight for the Russians.

Boston Marathon Attack

How They Were Named

Jeff Bauman—the man who had his legs blown off and was pictured with the cowboy—may have helped identify one of the suspects. Read Michael Daly’s report, published before the shootout in Watertown early Friday morning.

The investigators kept at it around the clock, pursuing thousands of leads.

“Working methodically and with a sense of urgency,” Richard DesLauriers, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Boston division, later noted.

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An image released by the FBI shows two suspects in the ongoing investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing. (FBI.gov)

One crucial lead is said to have come early on from Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs in the first explosion. He may very well have bled to death had a quick-thinking hero in a cowboy hat named Carlos Arredondo not torn up a sweater to fashion tourniquets, then hurried him to an ambulance, as first described in The Daily Beast.

BOSTON MARATHON

Manhunt for Second Bomber

Manhunt for Second Bomber Handout/Reuters, via Landov

Other suspect, his brother, killed in shootout.

The Associated Press has just announced, via Twitter, that the surviving Boston bombing suspect has been identified as Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, a 19-year-old from Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is on the loose and believed to be extremely dangerous. NBC’s Pete Williams reports that the other suspect, believed to be Tsarnaev’s Russian-born, 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan Tzarnaev, was gunned down during a shootout with police in Watertown early Friday morning. The brothers are reportedly both legal, permanent residents of the United States. They are thought to be from a Russian region near Chechnya and have been in the United States for at least one year. Police have reportedly arrested a third man, not a suspect, and have him in custody at the Tzarnaev brothers' Norfolk Street home.

Read it at Associated Press

Boston authorities caught up with the two men suspected of bombing the Boston Marathon late Thursday night and engaged in an hours-long firefight. One is dead, and the other is on the run. See the latest in the case of the Boston bombers.

Two towns just outside Boston’s city limits became a fiery war zone overnight as two fugitives suspected in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings shot and killed a policeman, hijacked a car, and engaged in a roiling gun battle with police.

Watertown

Police work a crime scene Friday, April 19, in Watertown, Massachusetts. A tense night of police activity that left an MIT officer dead on campus just days after the Boston Marathon bombings amid a hunt for two suspects led officers to converge on a neighborhood outside Boston, where residents heard gunfire and explosions. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Addressing reporters at an early-morning news conference, Col. Timothy P. Alben, superintendent of the Massachusetts state police, said the drama began with reports of a robbery at approximately 10:20 p.m. at a convenience store in Cambridge, just 15 minutes from the site of the first blast.

Shortly after, an MIT student called campus police to report “loud sounds, possibly gunshots,” according to MIT’s student newspaper The Tech. Responding officers found an MIT officer shot dead in his car, his body “evidencing multiple gunshot wounds,” according to the county district attorney. The officer was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was declared dead.

MADNESS IN MASSACHUSETTS

Boston Commissioner: 1 Suspect Dead

Boston Commissioner: 1 Suspect Dead Handout

One is still at large.

After hours of speculation, according to the Middlesex District Attorney’s office, one suspect wanted in connection with the Boston Marathon bombings is dead after a shootout with police officers. A police officer was transported to Mount Auburn Hospital and is currently in critical condition. The other suspect, described as the man wearing a white hat in surveillance videos, is still at large and is the subject of a massive manhunt. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis told reporters early Friday morning, “We believe this to be a terrorist. We believe this is a man who’s come here to kill people.” He also warned residents not to venture out of their houses.

Read it at The Boston Globe

BREAKING

Commissioner: Boston Marathon Suspect Killed

Commissioner: Boston Marathon Suspect Killed Mario Tama / Getty Images

After massive car chase in Watertown, MA.

Early Friday morning, The Boston Globe is reporting, one suspect in Monday’s marathon bombings was killed after a high-speed car chase in Watertown, Mass. A massive firefight broke out after police answered a carjacking call about an hour after a Massachusetts Institute of Technology officer was killed on duty. Two suspects fired automatic weapons and threw explosives at officers. One suspect was killed, but another remains on the loose, with FBI agents, SWAT members, and a helicopter patrol on his trail.

Read it at The Boston Globe

Cambridge Chaos

MIT Police Officer Shot, Killed

MIT Police Officer Shot, Killed Mario Tama

Connected to operation against marathon bombing suspects.

Massachusetts Insitute of Technology went into lockdown Thursday night when an MIT police officer was shot and killed in an incident related to the operation against the Boston marathon bombing suspects. The officer died shortly after being taken to Massachusetts General Hospital. An hour later, in nearby Watertown, two suspects engaged officers with heavy automatic gun fire, and threw what appeared to be hand grenades from the car windows. The chase left one officer injured and taken to Beth Israel Hospital. One suspect was reported to be injured and in custody, with another reportedly at large. Officers at the scene were joined by the FBI, SWAT teams, and bomb-diffusing robots.

Read it at The Boston Globe

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‘We Will Finish the Race’

President Obama pledges justice for the perpetrator of Monday’s attack in Boston and promises not to curtail American freedoms in the process. Eleanor Clift reports.

“For millions of us, what happened on Monday is personal,” said President Obama, taking his turn at the pulpit at an interfaith service Thursday in Boston. He and his wife, Michelle, both were law students in the city. It is home to so many renowned universities that every spring, at graduation time, there’s a “Boston diaspora that excels in every field of endeavor,” Obama said, just as every third Monday in April, the city hosts thousands of runners from all over the world for the storied Boston Marathon.

Obama Boston Marathon Explosions

President Obama finishes speaking April 18 at the interfaith service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. The service was dedicated to those who were gravely wounded or killed in Monday’s bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. (Susan Walsh/AP)

“Scripture tells us to run with endurance the race that is set before us,” Obama began with quiet intensity, recalling the beautiful sunny day Monday, with runners lacing up their shoes for the 26.2 miles, and the celebration that in an instant became a tragedy. He had come to the Church of the Holy Cross, he said, to reclaim “the perfect state of grace” that existed before the bombs went off, before “these small stunted individuals” took the lives of three and wounded many more, thinking “this somehow makes them important.”

“Every one of us has been touched by this attack on your beloved city,” he said, “It’s our beloved city too.” Obama memorialized each of the dead: Krystle Campbell, always smiling and happy, struck down just before her 30th birthday; Lingzi Lu, a 23-year-old graduate student far from home, with her family in China; and the young boy, Martin Richard, who has become the face of the tragedy and whose mother and sister remain hospitalized. “Our hearts are broken for 8-year-old Martin, with his big smile and bright eyes,” Obama said, recalling the boy’s last hours eating ice cream and his wish written on a blue poster board, “No more hurting people ... Peace.”

Online sleuths thought they nailed two suspects in the Boston bombing—and there they were on the cover of the New York Post the next day. But now everyone’s backpedaling in a big way.

Don’t blame Rupert Murdoch. Blame the Internet.

Two men who appear to be innocent of any crime found themselves splashed on the cover of Thursday’s New York Post under the ominous headline, “BAG MEN.” The paper stated that the men, pictured sporting backpacks amid a crowd of spectators at Monday’s Boston Marathon, are being sought by federal officials for their alleged link to bombings that killed three people and injured almost 200 more.

The Post, now under fire for posting the images without any apparent confirmation that the men were being investigated, implied that it obtained the image from law-enforcement sources. But it’s the same one that was circulated widely the night before in online communities like Reddit and 4chan, both of which have rushed to conduct an investigation from Internet armchairs as federal law-enforcement officials coordinate a national manhunt. Now, the amateur e-sleuths’ most bandied-about “suspects” are finding themselves forced to proclaim their innocence. Message boards, meanwhile, are hosting an outbreak of squabbling over whether they’ve fingered the wrong guys, perhaps even creating the next Richard Jewell.

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Boston Outrage

So the Media Screwed Up

The reporting errors out of Boston after the marathon blasts are piling up—and so is the finger-wagging on Twitter. But isn’t the outrage here a bit selective and dishonest?

On the evening of September 11, 2001, a day after moving from Boston to Brooklyn, I sat, guzzling bourbon, with strangers at a bar on Metropolitan Avenue, trading stories that were almost certainly false. These were the days before Twitter, of course, when rumors metastasized and took slightly longer to radiate. “Did you hear,” a thoroughly drunk and untrustworthy woman told me, “that they found explosives on the George Washington Bridge?” I had not, but who could doubt such a thing after having just watched the incineration of almost 3,000 people in lower Manhattan? And at the time, those estimates were much larger—possibly 6,000, could be 10,000.

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The media takes over Arlington Street by Newbury Street, in the aftermath of a pair of explosions at the Boston Marathon. (David L Ryan/The Boston Globe,via Getty)

The stakes seemed higher then, as the interminable wait for war against somebody began. And there wasn’t much griping about the countless reports that got it wrong. Simply deploy the “fog of war” cliché and keep pursuing the story. That instinct would change after the Iraq War.

On Wednesday, for 45 minutes, CNN viewers of were told that multiple sources had confirmed that a suspect in the Boston Marathon terror attack had been identified and taken into federal custody. The sources were wrong. The Associated Press followed suit, but it doesn’t have a cable channel, minimizing the humiliation. Likewise, The Boston Globe reported that the suspected perpetrator was caged and en route to federal court. Countless others reported variations on the story, with minor differences.

‘Targeting Analysis’

Bin Laden Hunter on Boston

The former deputy director of the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis, featured in HBO’s ‘Manhunt,’ tells Lloyd Grove at a screening for the bin Laden documentary how the Boston bombers may be caught.

When the terrorists behind the Boston Marathon bombing are finally apprehended, it will be because they couldn’t stay off what Philip Mudd calls “the grid.”

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FBI crime scene investigators sweep Boylston Street after placing an evidence marker just past Berkeley Street on April 17, 2013 in Boston (Darren McCollester/Getty)

“One of the things to watch, for those of you who haven’t done this for a living, is whether whoever did this is on the grid or not,” Mudd, former deputy director of the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis, told a crowd Tuesday night at the Council on Foreign Relations. The prospect of “finding them is not whether it’s a terrorist or an Islamic terrorist,” Mudd said. “It’s whether someone is on the grid—and by ‘grid’ I mean not only electronically, which is critical, but I also mean talking to people. As soon as you are on the grid, you expose yourself to risk…Our opportunities expand exponentially.”

At a screening of the HBO documentary Manhunt, the true story of the CIA’s search for Osama bin Laden that was dramatized—and fictionalized—by Zero Dark Thirty, Mudd said government investigators are using the techniques of “targeting analysis” developed in the hunt for bin Laden and other al Qaeda principals. They can locate and track potential suspects through a variety of high-tech and low-tech means.

Uncle: 'Turn Yourself In'

Adrenalized, impassioned, and unforgiving, an uncle of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, Ruslan Tsarni, appealed to his fugitive nephew Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to surrender to authorities. 'He put a shame on our family' and 'the entire Chechen ethnicity,' said Tsarni.

FBI: Two Suspects In Boston Bombing

In a press briefing Thursday afternoon, the FBI announced two unidentified suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, revealing pictures and video of the men and asking the public for help. "Identifying and locating those responsible is now our highest priority,' said DesLauriers.

Boston's Everyday Heroes

From the man in the cowboy hat to a baseball player who wrote 'Pray for Boston' on his glove, heroes big and small emerged in the wake of the Boston marathon bombing.

Obama: Everything Is Speculation

Speaking from the White House Tuesday, President Obama said the Boston bombing was being investigated by the FBI as an act of terrorism, but clarified that little else is known about who carried out the attack, or why.

Boston Marathon Explosion

Watch video of one of the explosions that rocked the Boston Marathon and the country.