Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Chechen war expert: ‘This is a big deal’

By Christopher Swift Best Defense bureau of Chechen affairs I’ve done fieldwork on the insurgency in Chechnya and Dagestan and have studied the war there for nearly 15 years. I’ve also interviewed several very prominent rebels. This would mark the first time Chechens have attacked any sort of U.S. target. Up until now their focus ...

Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Darren McCollester/Getty Images

By Christopher Swift

Best Defense bureau of Chechen affairs

By Christopher Swift

Best Defense bureau of Chechen affairs

I’ve done fieldwork on the insurgency in Chechnya and Dagestan and have studied the war there for nearly 15 years. I’ve also interviewed several very prominent rebels.

This would mark the first time Chechens have attacked any sort of U.S. target. Up until now their focus has been on Russia. This is a big deal. And it shows how the conflict in the Caucasus has metastasized into a kind of globalized jihadist theatre, at least in the minds of the young people fighting there.

These guys likely had no connection to the Caucasus Emirate in person; connection would likely have been online. This looks more and more like "resonant effects," rather than something planned and executed by a cadre-level organization.

Chechens I know are completely crushed. Let’s hope the FBI gets to the remaining suspect before the Chechen refugee community in Boston does. Boston welcomed and protected Chechen asylum seekers like no other city. Those people will tear these kids to pieces for the harm they’ve done.

A midday update:

As I’m learning more and more, it looks like most of these "connections" would have been online rather than through working with a terrorist syndicate out in the field. These kids have been out of Russia for more than a decade. And it looks like they’ve been living highly compartmentalized lives as well.  

Based on these facts, I doubt we have a Faisal Shahzad-style situation.  The Caucasus Emirate is about two companies in size. Most of these guys are living in tents in the mountains and constantly moving between safe houses. Their reach outside the region is very limited. Even the Kavkaz website is run outside the region.

I’ve been in that terrain. It’s very difficult physicial and sociological ground to traverse, even for a local. So I’d be shocked to see that they were connected directly to the group.

Mid-afternoon update:

It looks like the bomber was in Russia just last year. If this is true, then we may in fact have a Shahzad-type event on our hands. It’s still too soon to know whether this is international or a lone-wolf event based on these new facts.

Christopher Swift is an adjunct professor of national security studies at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a fellow at the University of Virginia’s Center for National Security Law.

Editor’s Note: The headline on this post has been changed.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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