The Boston Marathon Bombers: the Lethal Cocktail that Turned Troubled Youth to Terrorism

Anne Speckhard


The Tsarnaev brothers came from the war-torn Chechen diaspora and found asylum in the United States. The elder brother,Tamerlan, carried actual memories of fleeing from the 1994-96 Chechen war. He also lived in Dagestan for a year at the time when the Chechen warlord Basayev was engaging in a campaign of more than thirty suicide attacks, including mass hostage takings. When Tamerlan made it to the United States, he tried to assimilate but failed to make it. The family struggled hard to make a living in the U.S.; but in the end the parents divorced and the father returned to Dagestan. Dzhokhar, the younger brother, made it into an American university but Tamerlan did not succeed in higher education, trying to pursue a boxing career instead. When his immigration status precluded a boxing career, he became disillusioned. Meanwhile his mother, concerned about his descent into smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol, arranged an Islamic tutor for him. The ingredients for the lethal cocktail of terrorism came together when Tamerlan's individual vulnerabilities made him seek online contacts via the Internet and brought him in touch with offline mentors, militants and extremists who glorified Al-Qaeda’s global jihad. Through these channels he became receptive to the terrorist ideology, found a jihadist group with global reach to align with, received technical instructions from the Inspire magazine and found enough support for executing the Boston marathon attack, pulling his younger brother along and dying in the process as he had expected.

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Perspectives on Terrorism is  a journal of the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

ISSN  2334-3745 (Online)

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