Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Roots of this evil' in America

Chechen strongman blames U.S. for inspiring bombing suspects

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MAKHACHKALA, Russia -- The two brothers suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings have their ethnic roots in Chechnya, a part of the Caucasus Mountains that has spawned decades of violence -- from separatist wars to suicide attacks, blood feuds and hostage sieges.

Authorities have not linked Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to any insurgent groups, and the Kremlin-backed strongman who now leads Chechnya says the brothers got their inspiration in the U.S., not southern Russia.

"They weren't living here. They were living, studying and growing up in America," Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on Russian TV. "They have been educated there, not here."

The families of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the 26-year-old killed in a gun battle with police in Massachusetts overnight, and his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar, left Chechnya long ago and moved to Central Asia, the Chechen government said.

Before arriving in the U.S. a decade ago, the brothers lived briefly in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, a neighbouring, violence-wracked Russian province where their father lives.

The conflict in Chechnya began in 1994 as a separatist war, but became an Islamic insurgency dedicated to forming an Islamic state in the Caucasus. Dagestan has since become the epicentre of the insurgency.

Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya in 1996 after the first Chechen war, leaving it de-facto independent and largely lawless, but then rolled back three years later following apartment-building explosions in Moscow and other cities blamed on the rebels.

Kadyrov has Moscow's carte blanche to stabilize Chechnya with his feared security services, which are accused of killings and torture.

The Tsarnaev brothers lived in the region briefly as children, but appeared to have maintained a strong Chechen identity. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's first name is the same as Chechnya's first separatist president, who was killed in a Russian airstrike.

The suspects' uncle, Ruslan Tsarni of Montgomery Village, Md., urged Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to turn himself in, saying: "He put a shame on our family, the Tsarnaev family. He put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity."

In the interview on Russian TV, Kadyrov offered his condolences to the Boston Marathon victims, but placed the blame squarely on the U.S.

He added on Instagram that "the roots of this evil are to be found in America," but offered no explanation. He also criticized U.S. authorities for failing to capture the older brother alive.

Russia has relied on Kadyrov, a ruthless former rebel, to bring a degree of stability to Chechnya in recent years. But the Islamic insurgency has spread to neighbouring provinces, with Dagestan -- sandwiched between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea -- now seeing the worst of the violence. Militants launch daily attacks against authorities.

Militants from Chechnya and neighbouring provinces have carried out a series of terrorist attacks in Russia, including a 2002 raid on a Moscow theatre, in which 129 hostages died, most of them from the effects of narcotics gas that Russian special forces pumped into the building to incapacitate the attackers.

In 2004, militants from Chechnya took more than 1,000 people hostage at a school in Beslan, and the siege ended when gunfire erupted after explosions tore through the gym. More than half of the 330 people who died were children. There also have been numerous bombings in Moscow and other cities.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2013 A5

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