- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2013

Both Chechnya’s Moscow-backed president and the Islamic extremists seeking to overthrow him have distanced themselves in blog postings from the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, claims analysts take seriously.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, remained at large outside Boston Friday afternoon. His older brother Tamerlan, 26, was fatally shot in a confrontation with the police Thursday night. The two were identified by relatives Friday as ethnic Chechens, whose family had lived in the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan and in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, before coming to the United States 11 years ago.

Russian officials and Islamist rebels have engaged in a long, bloody battle for control of the southern Russian republic, with Moscow blaming Chechen rebel forces for a string of spectacular terrorist strikes including the September 2004 seizure of a school in Beslan.

“Any attempt to make a link between Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs, if they are guilty, is in vain,” wrote Chechen Republic President Ramzan Kadyrov in a posting on his official Instagram page. “They grew up in the United States, their views and beliefs were formed there. The roots of evil must be searched for in America. The whole world must battle with terrorism,” he said.

“We know this better than anyone,” he concluded.

Chechnya declared unilateral independence in 1991, but in 1994 the Russian forces sought to reclaim control, destroying the capital Grozny and much of the country’s road, rail and electrical infrastructure in a months-long massive artillery campaign.

Since the Russian incursion, the country has been the site of a separatist insurgency, increasingly influenced by transnational Islamic extremists. Extremists have always been part of the armed opposition, but a peace deal with Moscow in 1997 brought many secular or nationalist rebel elements in from their hideouts in the mountains, and others have retired or been crushed by the Russian counterinsurgency campaign since the 1990s.

Mr. Kadyrov, son of the separatist rebel turned Moscow-backed strongman Akhmad Kadyrov, became president in 2007, launching a ruthless counter-insurgency campaign against extremists that human rights groups criticized as tainted by torture and extra judicial killings.

In October 2007, an Islamic spiritual leader, Doku K. Umarov declared the Emarat Kavkazin — the Caucasus Emirate — uniting extremist militias under a single umbrella.

The group operates a website which regularly posts Mr. Umarov’s statements and claims of responsibility for terrorist acts.

On Friday, the site posted a commentary/news roundup about the Boston manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who shares his first name with the first president of an independent Chechnya, Dzhokhar Dudayev, a former Soviet air force general who overthrew the communist regional government there in 1991.

“As if it was ordered,” the commentary reads, “Dzhokhar is a well-recognized ‘brand’ that explicitly ties the ‘perpetrator of terrorist act’ in Boston to Chechnya.”

“The story of the brothers is still very confusing, although the PR-component of the whole campaign cannot not catch one’s eye,” the website noted.

“That strongly suggests to me that [the emirate] are not going to claim responsibility,” terrorism scholar and consultant to the U.S. government Evan Kohlman told The Washington Times.

“Nothing gets on that site that is contrary to the interests or the desires of Umarov,” he said, referring to the group’s leader.

“They generally don’t have any reluctance to claim even very serious terror attacks when they are responsible,” he added.

“I doubt they would have posted this if [the emirate] were going to claim responsibility,” he said.

Mairbek Vatchagaev, a scholar with the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, agreed that a connection with organized Chechen extremists is unlikely.

“It is hard to see their connection to militants operating in Chechnya or elsewhere in the North Caucasus,” he concluded after an analysis of the family’s background.

NBC and other news outlets reported Friday that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had returned to Russia for six months last year, although there was no information on what he did while in the country.

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