Russia often positions itself as an irreconcilable fighter against international terrorism. Time and time Russian officials use instances of deadly terrorist attacks in the West as an opportunity to call NATO to join efforts against terrorism. Russian president Vladimir Putin calls for ‘one powerful fist’ to fight terrorism and blames NATO for double standards. However, is Russia’s position on terrorism so univocal?
While Moscow officially condemns terrorism, Putin’s strongman and head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov openly stated his intentions to ‘quietly attack the West,’ organized demonstrations in support of 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks, and supported the convicted 2013 Boston marathon bombers. Moreover, the Boston marathon bombers had murky connections to people who lead to Kadyrov’s government and his relatives. What do we know about the Boston bombers’ connection to Russia and what does it mean for our security?
On April 15, 2013, two half-Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev conducted terrorist attacks in Boston, Massachussets after visiting Russia. Explosions and subsequent shootings killed three civilians and left 264 injured. Tamerlan was killed during the police shootout and Dzhokhar was caught after several days of intense manhunt.
Later investigation described the brothers as self-radicalized and not connected to any terrorist group. Interestingly though, it downplayed the fact that Tamerlan Tsarnaev traveled to Russia right before the bombings, where he spent six months while Russian security service kept him under close surveillance. Russian operatives reported that they were aware of his radicalization and his connections to local jihadist organizations.
However, the Russian government kept this information secret from the FBI. The US government claimed that Russia refused numerous FBI requests to share information on the Tsarnaevs prior to the bombings. After the bombings, president Putin said that ‘Russia had no information on Tsarnaev brothers’ and Kadyrov claimed that the ‘roots of evil should be searched for in America.’ He accused the US government of conspiracy and framing two innocent brothers.
In another strange story, one month after the bombings, FBI agents killed Ibragim Todashev, a 27 year old Chechen boxer who lived in Florida. Todashev was a close friend of the Tsarnaev brothers, son of a high ranking official in Chechnya, and a relative of Kadyrov. Todashev came to the US in 2008 as an exchange student and then applied for asylum (although he didn’t face any persecution at home). Later, Todashev and the Tsarnaev brothers were implicated in the 2011 Waltham triple murder involving the beheading of three young Jewish men. According to the FBI, agents and police were interviewing Todashev at his house in connection with the triple homicide and Boston bombing when he attacked the agents and was killed.
The death of Todashev sparked a strong response from Kadyrov. He said Todashev was a ‘good boy’ who was ‘killed without a justification’ and ‘his father was a decent man.’ State media organized a campaign of televised conferences and events reiterating the narrative of Todashev’s good character, innocence, and US government conspiracy.
Facts surrounding the Boston bombings could raise some serious questions. What happened during Tsarnaev’s trip to Russia and why did the Russians keep it secret? What was the connection between the Boston bombers, Todashev, and Kadyrov’s government? Could Boston bombing be a case of hybrid terrorist attack?