“Chechnya has a very brutal history. You can just imagine two young Chechen boys growing up [in that violence] and then being dropped in the United States,” says Fiona Hill, an expert in Russia and its regional conflicts at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Noting how that could be “incredibly disorienting,” she adds, “And here they are in their 20s, a classic time for people to search for identity.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, the older brother shown wearing a dark cap in FBI photos released Thursday, appears to have posted religious videos that included references to the liberation of the Muslim regions of Central Asia before the bombings Monday and the shoot-out in Watertown early Friday in Boston where he was fatally wounded.
His younger brother, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 19, the suspect shown wearing a white cap in FBI photos, was born in Kyrgyzstan but appears to have kept a page on a Russian social network where he identifies as Muslim and expresses interest in events in Chechnya, the predominantly Muslim Russian province where Russian authorities fought two ruthless wars in the 1990s and 2000s as separatists battled central Russian rule.
All of these elements could suggest that the Tsarnaev brothers carried out the marathon bombings as a result of some link to a foreign terrorist organization. But the more likely scenario, some experts say, is that the two immigrants were “lone wolves” perhaps inspired by a radical foreign ideology but acting more in a quest to assert an identity.