Where is Chechnya: In the North Caucasus — But Not All Chechens Are the Same

Most of us cannot point to the Russian Republic of Chechnya on a map. However, the events of this past week have altered our ignorance. According to reports, the two individuals involved in the Boston Marathon terrorist attack were brothers that emigrated from Chechnya. In the past, the United States has experienced a friendly relationship with Chechnya, even backing their calls for independence from the Russians in the 1990s. Nonetheless, the turning point in international support occurred when the jihadi elements within the Chechen cause started to take control. In the summer of 2002, their control was evident as Moscow was bombarded with a series of terrorist attacks. At this point, Putin and the Russian leadership realized the terrorist element present in the Chechen cause and warned the international community. Since then, Chechen rebels have continued to fight for independence from Russia although the jihadi elements have surfaced and taken control of the movement.

Experts say there are several ties between Chechen rebel groups and Al Qaeda, which reaffirms Putin's prognostication and American fears. Before the attacks in Boston, most within the United States did not identify Chechnya as an enemy. As a matter of fact, Chechen rebels do not even formally identify the United States as an enemy. This was formally stated for a brief time in 2007, however redacted six months later by Chechen rebel leadership, seemingly in their best interests.

Yet, recent events, like the Boston Marathon attack, highlight the strength of the jihadi element within the movement. In foresight, this connection was inevitable, as Al Qaeda and the Taliban have shown outspoken support for the Chechen cause; often times recruiting, training, and aiding their forces. Moreover, Osama Bin Laden was rumored to have visited the state in 1999 in an effort to help their plea for independence as a Muslim state.

In assessing this attack in Boston and its perpetrators, the most important thing to note is the internationalization of the jihadist movement. The Chechen cause was spawned by the desire to become and independent Muslim state. However, it has become a movement devoted more towards jihad then independence, as their enemies begin to grow and allies begin to dwindle. This change in direction highlights the diversion between Chechen separatists and the more outspoken Chechen jihadists. Moving forward, it is important to keep this distinction in mind and focus on the jihadist movement as a separately as opposed to attempting to identify all Chechens as jihadists. 

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Shimon Moshehai

Shimon is a recent college graduate with a bachelors degree in Political Science from UCLA. His research interests are Middle East Politics, Religion, and International Relations.

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