Chechen terrorism: What you need to know

Islamist fighters from the region have fought a long war of independence against Russia

Topics: Boston, Boston Marathon explosion, Boston Explosions, Boston Bombings, Chechnya, Terrorism, Russia, ,

Chechen terrorism: What you need to knowPolice check luggages for explosives at railway station in Krasnoyarsk, March 31, 2010. Authorities said the blasts were linked to the North Caucasus - a string of heavily Muslim provinces that includes Chechnya (Credit: Reuters/Ilya Naymushin)

After a dramatic night that included a shootout, the murder of a police officer and the death of one of the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, authorities are on the hunt for remaining suspect, whom the AP identified as Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, a 19-year-old who is reportedly a Chechen national living in Cambridge, Mass., with his brother, the slain second suspect, for the past several years.

It’s important to note that the reports of the suspects’ nationalities remain unconfirmed; however, they have Chechen surnames and a photo essay reportedly profiling the elder Tsarnaev, Tamerlan, quotes him as saying, “Originally from Chechnya, but living in the United States since five years.” Tamerlan says: “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.”

Chechen terrorism may be less familiar to most Americans than that carried out by fighters from the Middle East or Afghanistan and Pakistan, but Chechen separatists have fought a long and bloody war against Russia in the region’s long war of independence from Moscow.

Chechnya, a small, predominately Muslim region in the Caucuses between Georgia and the Caspian Sea in Southern Russia, has been a hotbed of separatist violence since the start of the first Chechen war in 1994 — the same year that Tsarnaev was reportedly born. As Joshua Yaffa, a Moscow-based journalist wrote, The “whole generation knows only conflict.”

While the Russian military fought a brutal “dirty war” against Islamic fighters in the region that reportedly included extrajudicial disappearances and killings, Islamist terrorists carried out a campaign of terror and violence against innocent Russian civilians all over the country.

Dokka Umarov, an Islamist Chechen separatist leader, is one of Russia’s most wanted men and has earned the name of “Russia’s Osama bin Laden” for his involvement in numerous attacks. Al-Qaida has also been loosely tied to Chechen terror groups.

Violence has calmed more recently and Chechnya has seen rapid economic growth. Moscow officially ended its counterterrorism operations in the region in 2009.

In 2001, three Chechens hijacked a Russian airline with 174 people onboard and forced it to land in Saudi Arabia, where commandos stormed the plane and freed more than 100 hostages.

In 2002, some 50 Chechen militants seized a theater in Moscow, taking 850 hostages and demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from their region. At least 130 hostages died when Russian authorities pumped in knock-out gas in an attempt to drive out the terrorists, but ended up killing civilians as well.

In early September 2004, militants sent by Chechen separatist leader Shamil Basayev took over a grade school in a nearby autonomous region of Russia. After three days and a botched raid by Russian forces, at least 385 were killed and over 700 wounded, including numerous children.

In 2010, at least 40 people were killed and 100 injured when terrorists bombed two Moscow Metro stations.

For more, check out this Council on Foreign Relations primer on separatist violence and terror in Chechnya.

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>