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Suspects’ homeland ravaged by wars


– The two men suspected of orchestrating the Boston Marathon bombings have thrust Chechnya, a territory in the southern part of Russia, into the spotlight.

Brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, are of Chechen origin.

According to the New York Times, the Tsarnaev family lived briefly in Makhachkala, the capital of the Dagestan region, near Chechnya, before moving to the United States in 2002.

When the Soviet Union disbanded in the early 1990s, Chechnya wanted its independence, said James Lutz, chairman of the political science department at IPFW and a local expert on terrorism. The territory received some autonomy after a war fought in the mid-1990s, but Russia regained control after a second war that began in 1999 and lasted until 2001.

Lutz said the second war was characterized by heavy casualties that caused hard feelings among Chechens. The numbers are hard to pin down, but Lutz said at least 50,000 civilians lost their lives as a result of the fighting between Russian soldiers and Chechen rebels.

The opposition to Russian control was mostly for ethnic and national reasons, Lutz said, but religious opposition has also played a role more recently. Chechnya is predominantly Muslim.

Tension and “low-key fighting” have continued in the region since the second war up to 2009 when Russia ended its state of emergency, Lutz said. Now Russia relies on local leaders in Chechnya to deal with dissidents, he said.

“But there’s still some scope for problems in the future,” he said.

Russian troops were known to shoot first and ask questions later, while dissidents would target anyone suspected of supporting Russia. Their fighting was characterized by an “honor code that demands retribution,” Lutz said.

“Nobody ever gets the last word in that kind of system,” he said.

The U.S. has maintained what Lutz called “benevolent neutrality” toward the fighting between Russia and Chechen people, especially since the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the U.S. and Russia’s aid in fighting the al-Qaida terrorist network. Chechen rebels have also been aided by global jihadist groups, he said.

Based on the timing and age of the two suspects, Lutz said, it doesn’t appear that the brothers were living in the area during wartime, but “developed their own interest in looking into their country of origin. That’s a guess, but that seems to be the case from what I’ve seen,” he said.

Officials have not linked the Boston Marathon bombings to Chechnya or Chechen events. Other experts have warned against connecting the suspects’ ethnic origin with a motive for their actions.