By Brigitte L. Nacos
If you want to know about the radicalization path taken by some young Muslims in the West, read the New York Police Department’s 2007 study “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat.” After studying post 9/11terrorist attacks and foiled plots in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States, senior intelligence analysts came up with a four-step model of radicalization. They named the four stages Pre-Radicalization; Self-Identification; Indoctrination; and Jihadization.
The most telling and most troubling finding of the report was that at the outset, “the majority of the individuals involved in these plots began as ―”unremarkable,” they had “ordinary” jobs, had lived “ordinary” lives and had little, if any criminal history.”
This seems to have been the case with the Tsarnaev brothers.
But, eventually, a change occurred in Tamerlan, the older brother. For so far unknown reasons, he became interested in radical Islam and in the next step obviously the idea of becoming part of Jihad in the very community and country that had opened their doors to him and his family as they fled the violence of their home first in Chechnya and then in Dagestan.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s metamorphosis from talented Golden Glove boxer to ruthless terrorist resembles that of the would-be Times Square Bomber Faisal Shahzad. Fitting well into Western culture and life, a seemingly ordinary and quite secular young man with university degrees and a well-paying career, Shahzad became religious and self-radicalized according to e-mails he sent to friends. Since Shahzad’s final stage into Jihadism brought him back to Pakistan and personal ties to Taliban members, the question with respect to the Boston bombings is, whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev, too, sought and found personal ties to one or more members of a Jihadist group in Dagestan or Chechnya.
Not all terrorists of this type have personal contacts with like-minded individuals or groups. The Fort Hood Shooter Hasan Nidal, for example, was a virtual recruit of the Yemeni-American preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki who urged Muslims in West, and particularly in America, to become soldiers in the holy war by attacking civilians and members of the military alike. The older Tsarnaev brother also sought out Internet sermons by the Australian radical Islamist Feiz Mohammad and others.
According to his friends and acquaintances in high school and college, the younger brother Dzhokhar was just like “us” and “a regular Cambridge boy.” Why he became part of the terrorist brothers act remains one of the mysteries surrounding this case.
Just as mysterious seems the FBI’s handling of the older Tsernaev following a tip by Russian intelligence in 2011 that Tamerlan had turned to radical Islam. Obviously, the Russian authorities feared that this would somehow become a threat to their own region. It may well be that the FBI did not find evidence at the time. But the bureau’s claim that without evidence the case had to be closed is not convincing at all and needs to be scrutinized.
For the intelligence community, for everyone involved in homeland security efforts, there are many remaining questions that need to be answered.
Most of all one wonders whether the Boston bombings were the deeds of merely two persons or whether the Tsernaevs had the support of people in their immediate surroundings.
And then there is the threat of terrorist contagion, especially with respect to the method of attack. The Boston Bombings were the first case in the United States in which two bombs were detonated at the same site of attack. Since both bombs exploded and inflicted great harm other terrorist plotters might try to copy the multiple-bombing model that has been very common in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere abroad.