Social Media May Hold Clues About Boston Bombing Suspect

Apr 19, 2013
Originally published on April 19, 2013 9:51 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

One of the two bombing suspects, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, had a page on a Russian-oriented Facebook-style social media site called VKontakte. Leon Aron, who's director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and I looked at that page together earlier today.

LEON ARON: He seemed like a perfectly well-integrated kid. If you look under his personal priorities, career and money. He lists his religion as Islam, but there's nothing especially Islamist. If you look at the pages that they liked, there's nothing there to indicate any kind of extremism.

SIEGEL: There is a video from Syria.

ARON: Okay. Let me put this on. Okay. It's called "For Those Who Have Heart, I Want To Tell You Something." They're killing our brothers and sisters only because they say that Allah is our god. It shows an execution.

SIEGEL: You're reading the Russian subtitles that are over this?

ARON: I'm reading the Russian subtitles, precisely, yes. It's pro-insurgent, anti-Assad video, clearly, that casts the Syrian rebellion as a war of a secular regime against the believers in Islam.

SIEGEL: So that's the rare hint on his home page of political Islam being there. We have another appearance by Dzhokhar's older brother, Tamerlan, who was already killed. He had a wishlist on Amazon.com and the books that he was hoping to get included a Chechen dictionary and phrasebook, but also a book, "The Lone Wolf and The Bear: Three Centuries of Chechen Defiance of Russian Rule," and "Allah's Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya."

Clearly, he had an interest in his identity as a Chechen.

ARON: He considered Chechnya his motherland, his spiritual motherland, his historic motherland.

SIEGEL: If these two young men, who don't seem to have been raised in Chechnya and whose relatives seem to be abandoning the very idea that they were Chechen nationalists or Islamists who had ever - let's say they did identify with being Chechen. What does that tend to mean nowadays? It's such a small group. Is it common to be a Chechen Islamist, for example?

ARON: These days, definitely. The struggle of Chechens for independence was always cast as, at least in part, and very intensely, as a religious conflict. So I think at the very least we could surmise that the interest in Chechnya and the consideration of Chechnya as their historic spiritual motherland, with that came this very acute sense of a small Islamic land trying to preserve its faith against an overbearing, brutal, large imperial power.

SIEGEL: Well, Leon Aron, thank you very much for talking with us today about it.

ARON: Thank you very much, Robert.

SIEGEL: Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute, speaking with us about Chechens and Chechnya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.