Fletcher in the News

Wrong to Lump Together Views of Chechens in the US: Lorenzo Vidino (F10)

Chechens have been locked for nearly two decades in a bitter, violent conflict against the Russian government. But why would two Chechen refugees harbor such anger toward the United States that they’d want to carry out a terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon?

The answer is far from obvious, since the U.S. and Russia are often at odds on a wide variety of issues and the American officials regularly denounce the Russian Federation for engaging in human rights abuses, including in Chechnya.

It’s not clear whether the Boston suspects were part of any group. However, experts say some parts of the Chechen resistance have become radicalized during the long-running conflict, with elements at the fringe taking their conflict global and even linking up with Al Qaeda.

“Over the last several years, we’ve seen Chechens fighting in Afghanistan, Chechens fighting in Iraq, Chechens fighting in Syria,” said Lorenzo Vidino of the Switzerland-based Center for Security Studies. “Starting in the 1990s, some Chechens began to embrace a militant interpretation of Islam and have fallen into the umbrella of a sort of global jihad, despite the fact that the conflict in their region was still going on.

Since the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama has boasted that his administration has done much to dismantle core Al Qaeda. “The goal that I set — to defeat Al Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild — is now within our reach,” he said in Afghanistan, a year after the bin Laden raid. …

…“Once you embrace that ideology, if you buy into the global jihad mindset, one battlefield equals the other,” added Vidino, who got his doctorate at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, outside Boston. “An attack on Boston is good as an attack on Pakistan, which is as good as an attack on Moscow. … We had a Chechen who lived in Belgium live there for a couple of years, then go to Denmark and try to carry out an attack.”

The total number of Chechens who have linked up with global jihad groups like Al Qaeda is probably in the low hundreds and represent a small fraction of Chechen fighters or separatists, Vidino added. “A lot of leaders of the Chechen resistance live in the U.S. It would be wrong for people to incorrectly lump them all up together,” he said, noting that many of the refugees don’t have a particularly religious worldview.

Still, if the attackers are confirmed as part of a Chechen family granted asylum, there is certain to be scrutiny of U.S. government policies for screening potential applicants for terrorist ties or radical views. However, the reported youth of the suspects raises the possibility that they were radicalized after moving from Chechnya, and maybe even after arriving in the U.S.

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