A Preliminary Profile of the Boston Bombers: The Tsarnaev Brothers

By Mairbek Vatchagaev

The Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan, 26 years old, and 19-year-old Jokhar, have been accused of carrying out the bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15. Tamerlan has died from injuries sustained from a shootout with police on Friday, April 19. While, as of the publication of this article, the younger brother, Jokhar, is still at large.

The Tsarnaev family used to reside in Kyrgyzstan. They probably ended up in Kyrgyzstan after mass deportation of Chechens from the North Caucasus in 1944. Today, there are approximately 20,000 ethnic Chechens still residing in Kyrgyzstan. Shortly before the onset of the second Russian-Chechen war in September 1999, the Tsarnaev family moved to their homeland in Chechnya. After the war began in 1999, they moved to Dagestan, having apparently become refugees. The fact that they resided in Makhachkala and not in Khasavyurt, as most other ethnic Chechens in the republic, indicates that they had the financial means to live in the capital of Dagestan, which is quite expensive. They also had relatives in the city and were able to send their children to one of the best schools in Makhachkala, School #1.  The younger brother, Jokhar Tsarnaev, went to this school only for one year where he completed the first grade (https://www.zman.com/news/2013/04/19/149396.html).

Subsequently, the family was divided as the father, Anzor, stayed in Makhachkala, while the rest of the family started looking for ways to emigrate from the North Caucasus. His mother, Zubeidat, had four children: two sons and two daughters, who managed to emigrate legally to the United States. Once in the US, she received permanent residence for herself and her children. The mother’s first name, Zubeidat, suggests she was of Dagestani origin and that is probably why the family moved to Dagestan in the first place.

Having settled in the Boston area, the Tsarnaevs tried to adapt to their new home. The elder brother, Tamerlan, received a degree in engineering and was a boxer, who reportedly dreamed of competing in sporting events under the US flag. Tamerlan received US resident status in 2007 (https://lenta.ru/news/2013/04/19/anzor/).

The second brother, 19-year-old Jokhar, had only just begun to attend college. On his Internet page of the online social network VK.com, he described his views and also listed several groups of which he was a member. Jokhar was a member of three Muslim groups, but none of the groups could be described as terrorist or jihadist; they rather provided information about Islam. One of the groups, for instance, Salamword collected funds for people suffering with cancer. The second group, Islam.Muslims.Islam, simply spread photographs of mosques from around the world. The third group, called Lya ‘iLyaha’iLla-Pust Zvuchit V Nashikh Serdtsakh, does nothing besides quoting Muslim hadiths.

In light of preliminary information about the Tsarnaevs, there does not appear to be much, if any, indication that Jokhar had any connection to jihadist groups or sympathized with the most well-known terrorist organization in the North Caucasus called the Caucasus Emirate, or any other similar groups. On the contrary, in one of his blog entries, he laments having no American friends, having lived in the country for so long. All of his friends were from the former Soviet Union.

Another surprising piece of evidence suggests that Jokhar had accessed his webpage at 3 o’clock Boston time, but did not leave any comments. It was unclear whether it was AM or PM time (https://vk.com/id160300242?z=tag160300242). The bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line were detonated at approximately 2:50 PM, local time.

The father of the two brothers from Makhachkala reckons that his children were framed and that his son Jokhar was like an angel (https://lenta.ru/news/2013/04/19/anzor/). Friends of the brothers describe them as ordinary American guys.

In any case, the Boston police already have made a mistake in their preliminary analysis of the brothers, stating that the suspects may have received martial skills, including the ability to make Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Chechnya. They were not present in Chechnya, either during the first war (1994-1995) or during the second war in Chechnya that started in September 1999. The brothers would not have been able to receive any type of fighting or military experience because of their age. Their family emigrated to the US when the eldest brother was only 16. Taking into account that before their move to the US they had lived in Russia for two years and prior to that they had resided for one year in Dagestan, it is hard to see their connection to militants operating in Chechnya or elsewhere in the North Caucasus.