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Motive in Boston bombings: Look to tribal code of honor

The Tsarnaev brothers, suspects in the Boston bombings, are ethnic Chechens, stemming from a tribal society in which a code of honor and revenge plays a major role. As questions turn to motive, this code may be far more relevant than the brothers' views of Islam.

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In this image taken from a video, Patimat Suleimanova, the aunt of Boston bomb suspects, speaks to The Associated Press in her home in the Russian city of Makhachkala, in Dagestan, April 22. Ms. Suleimanova says Tamerlan Tsarnaev struggled to find himself while trying to reconnect with his Chechen identity: He 'seemed to be more American' than Chechen and 'didn't fit into the Islamic world.'

Patimat Suleimanova/AP Television/AP Photo

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With one suspect in the Boston bombings dead and the other in the hospital, investigators are now focusing on motive. Why should two young immigrants who had been given a home in the United States attack the iconic Boston marathon? Were they motivated by a specific interpretation of Islam pushing them to acts of violence? Or was it the geopolitical machinations of al Qaeda or some other terror group seeking to continue their violent struggle against the US? 
 
These important questions are being explored, but I suggest they will yield little. An additional line of inquiry needs to be pursued that looks at the tribal background of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout with police Friday, and his younger brother Dzhokhar. Both of them are ethnic Chechens, stemming from a tribal society in which a code of honor and revenge plays a significant role.

Consider this: The strike at Boston is, in all probability, the first terrorist attack in the United States in which the issues of tribalism and homegrown terrorism merged. True, 18 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 had Yemeni tribal backgrounds. But they planned their attack from abroad. In contrast, other terrorists, such as Maj. Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, were homegrown but did not have tribal backgrounds.

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