Craig Albert, a Georgia Regents University assistant professor, said he was both surprised and terrified to hear of Chechen links to last week’s violence in Boston.
“I was terrified that there would be a Chechen network inside the United States,” he said. “I was terrified because of the type of warrior the Chechen (terrorist) is. My second reaction was that there was no way it could be the Chechens because Chechens don’t attack Americans.”
Albert’s interest in Chechnya goes back to his days as an undergraduate political science student at Augusta State University. That led him to become more familiar with Chechen culture as he completed his doctoral dissertation at the University of Connecticut in 2009.
When it was reported last week that Boston suspects Tamerlan and Dzohkhar Tsarnaev came from Chechnya, Albert said, he started getting calls not only from Washington but also from major news media outlets, all asking the same questions: Who are the Chechens, and what they like?
“The average person on the street in Chechnya (is) known for this very distinct
hospitality,” he said. “Morality and public manners are very important to Chechens.”
He said that Chechens with terrorist ties amount to less than 5 percent of the overall population and that only a handful commit acts of violence.
Albert said that while researching Chechnya’s conflict with Russia, he came across reports of Chechen civilians taking in wounded enemy soldiers and nursing them back to health. That is something, he said, characteristic of the majority of the Chechen Republic.
The professor said he had trouble believing the first reports that Chechens were involved in the violence in Watertown, Mass., because Chechens don’t typically attack Americans, though there have been some reports of Chechen jihadists engaging U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The jihadists are believed to be some of the world’s fiercest warriors, Albert said.
Religion, though not as revered as family ties, is becoming more of a factor in Chechen life, he said. Chechnya has experienced an influx of Sunni Muslims since the mid-1990s, which Albert attributes to an increase of radicalization.
“I’m starting to think (the Tsarnaev brothers) might have more ties to terrorist groups,” he said. “It’s clear that the older brother had gone to Russia in 2009 or 2010, and it appears that he might have gone to Chechnya during that time. If that’s the case, it’s likely that he made some Islamist connections.”
Albert said he believes Tamerlan Tsarnaev perhaps used the Chechen value of family unity to influence his younger brother.
“For all Chechens, family authority is important,” he said. “An older brother asking a younger brother to do something would have been very important to follow through with.”