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April 19, 2013

Questions on the Brothers Tsarnaev
Posted by The Editors

Suspects-in-crowd-1This post was written
by James Lamond and Bill French

Events and reports are coming out of Boston rapidly. Much of what we hear in the next few hours will be refined and corrected. This week’s media coverage has been a reminder of the need to wait until the facts are in before jumping to conclusions, speculation and accusations. However, it can be helpful to think through what questions need to be answered in the near term, what this means for the investigation and what lessons can be learned. Many of these questions are based on early reporting and speculation and may prove to be void in the coming days.

Did the Tsarnaev Brothers act alone? There have been reports about a third accomplice involved. Clearly if that is the case the manhunt will extend to that individual. However, it will be important to determine if they received any sort of funding or training from a larger network. Can investigators trace the funding back to individuals or groups that were involved in the planning? The Treasury Department’s tools for tracking terrorist and illicit finances have improved drastically in the past few years.  Of course, one question remains, if they had a sponsor of sorts, why were they forced to hold up a 7/11?

What was the motivation? Adam Serwer reported on a video posted on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s YouTube account “dedicated to the prophecy of the Black Banners of Khurasan which is embraced by Islamic extremists—particularly Al Qaeda.” However as Aaron Zelin warns against jumping to conclusions saying, “it's important to AQ, but it doesn't necessarily mean jihad.” At this point we do not know the motivation or ideology of the suspects. It is always possible that it could be something off of the radar, as what happened in the Anders Behring Breivik attack in Norway in 2011.  

Did the suspects receive any training? There have been mixed reports that the suspects received military or paramilitary training in the past.  These reports have been widely questioned. However, this needs to be investigated, and will be. If they received training, how and where did they do so? What group(s) is connected? If not how were they able to assemble these crude yet effective explosives? Simply from online instructions?

If there is an international connection, what are next steps? With all the speculation of ties to Chechnya, the question of U.S.-Russia cooperation will likely be raised. Relations between the two countries have been rocky – particularly since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. However, even throughout the tough times, there has been an increase in international cooperation on counterterrorism and international law enforcement issues.  

If there is a connection to Chechnya and/or Dagestan what does this mean for the terrorist threat from the region? If there does turn out to be a strong connection with the region, which at this point is pure speculation, there will undoubtedly be an increased focus on the region and militant groups in the area. The Washington Post explains recent cases with alleged connections to the region, “In 2011, a Chechen-born man was sentenced in Denmark to 12 years in prison for preparing a letter bomb that exploded as he was assembling it in a Copenhagen hotel a year earlier… Last month, Spain’s Interior Ministry said French and Spanish police arrested three suspected Islamic extremists in an operation in and around Paris. A statement said the suspected activists were of Chechen origin and believed to be linked to an alleged terror cell dismantled last August in southern Spain.” To be clear, ethnic origin does not mean any organizational connection. Ian Bremmer points out that there are different kinds of groups from the region adding that Russia plays up the region’s connection to al Qaeda in order to justify Russia’s harsh tactics there.


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