A few Boston Globe reporters have collaborated on a lengthy and perhaps unique look into the background of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers and their immediate family. The piece, “The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev,” suggests that the older brother, Tamerlan, exhibited signs of schizophrenia and that the younger, Dzhokhar (Jahar), had a history of manipulation and brash risk raking. In addition:
The Globe’s five-month investigation, with reporting in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Canada, and the United States, also:
- Fundamentally recasts the conventional public understanding of the brothers, showing them to be much more nearly coequals in failure, in growing desperation, and in conspiracy.
- Establishes that the brothers were heirs to a pattern of violence and dysfunction running back several generations. Their father, Anzor, scarred by brutal assaults in Russia and later in Boston, often awoke screaming and tearful at night. Both parents sought psychiatric care shortly after arriving in the United States but apparently sought no help for Tamerlan even as his mental condition grew more obvious and worrisome.
- Casts doubt on the claim by Russian security officials that Tamerlan made contact with or was recruited by Islamist radicals during his visit to his family homeland.
- Raises questions about the Tsarnaevs’ claim that they came to this country as victims of persecution seeking asylum. More likely, they were on the run from elements of the Russian underworld whom Anzor had fallen afoul of. Or they were simply fleeing economic hardship.
What seems unique about this article is the depth of investigation into the background and family history of alleged terrorists that have carried out an attack inside the United States. Following 9/11 there was a considerable degree of discussion around the social conditions in which terrorists emerge, or what might cause young men and women to enlist in the jihadist cause. “Draining the swamp” was a popular, if unclear, concept that seemed to offer a menu of options to address what were referred to as “root causes” of terrorism.
Then the Iraq war happened and our incursion into Afghanistan turned out not to be a swift and clear victory. COIN or counter-insurgency became the new buzzword, soon followed by a concentration on special forces raids and drone strikes. Understanding the conditions that possibly drive some to terrorist acts drifted to the background.
In my opinion, this article helps bring some of those concepts back into the counter terrorism discussion. It should not be read as an argument to absolve these brothers of their (alleged) acts, or an attempt to provide support for leniency in Dzhokhar’s upcoming trial due to the facts of a difficult upbringing. Instead, I hope that it may provide at least a kernel of information that others can learn from to possibly prevent future radicalization.
Again, the article is long but worth your time and can be found at: