By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, Professor of History
At approximately 8:50 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, the first of two planes slammed into the World Trade Center. The Age of Terrorism had arrived on our shores. On April 15, we were once again reminded that despite our best efforts to insulate ourselves from terrorism, we live in an age where our safety is conditional.
The perpetrators of the Boston attack, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were born in Chechnya, which is located in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation. Exactly when and why the older brother, Tamerlan, became a terrorist is a key element in the investigation. What we do know is Chechnya and Dagestan are the epicenters of Islamic Jihadism in the region. Their geography places them closer to Tehran than Moscow to the far north. During the Second World War, when the fate of Russia was conditional and the Battle of Stalingrad was raging in the winter of 1942-43, Moscow alleged that some in Chechnya were on the wrong side. Their punishment was collective. Stalin uprooted them and shipped them to Siberia only to return in the 1950s. Decades later, when the USSR imploded, Chechnya attempted to leave the Russian Federation and an insurrection was put down with the full might of the Russian military. Chechnya terrorists responded by blowing up a subway train in Moscow while the so-called Black Widows seized a theater with 800 people in it and threatened to blow it up.
Meanwhile, in the years that followed, some of the people of Chechnya and Dagestan have turned to Islamic extremism. Perhaps Tamerlan was predisposed to the Jihadist mindset before he arrived on our shores, concluding that however different Russia and the United States are, they share a common hatred of Muslims. Others suspect he was in contact with the Islamic extremists and was, in the words of the FBI, radicalized during a six- or seven-month stay in the region not long ago. We also know that his computer is filled with materials downloaded from radical Islamic sites, so perhaps he and his brother were radicalized on the web. Whatever the case, one does not become a terrorist overnight.
By the same token, terrorist acts are not spur-of-the-moment decisions. In the case of the Boston bombers, they bought fireworks, dismantled them and used the black powder to build bombs. They also planned to use pipe bombs in Times Square. For seasoned terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda with its numerous so-called franchises, leaders place a high value on bleeding their victims in the financial sense. For bin Laden and his cohorts, Sept. 11 was a nickel-and-dime operation. What we have spent repairing the damage and trying to protect ourselves for future attacks is beyond comprehension. The Tsarnaev brothers spent perhaps $200 building the bombs. When the cost of finding them, the commerce lost in Boston for several days, and the hospital bills are finally added, the total will be staggering. Given the cost of health care, the $20 million fund that has been established to help cover hospital expenses for those injured may be peanuts, barely making a dent in the final tally. For many of the survivors, the costs of restoring their health over a lifetime will also be staggering. As for the coming trial of the younger brother, the cost will be in the millions.
What appears to link all terrorists is a deep hatred of their perceived enemies and what they represent. For them, killing is a perfectly rational act in keeping with their religious or ideological beliefs. Their victims, not them, are the incarnation of evil.