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Inferno in Chechnya: The Russian-Chechen Wars, the Al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombing

Inferno in Chechnya

The Russian-Chechen Wars, the Al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombing

Brian Glynn Williams

ForeEdge, Boston, 2015, 296 pages

Book Review published on: March 3, 2017

Brian Glynn Williams, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, provides an insightful perspective chronicling the tragic history of the little-known Caucasus Muslim ethnic group-the Chechens. The Chechens have been traumatized since the tsarist conquests of the 1850s. This ordeal continued during the Stalinist genocide of the 1940s and continued through the two devastating conflicts with post-Soviet Russia. Williams’ premise is that this continued regional turmoil directly contributed to the development of “Europe’s deadliest homegrown terrorist network,” developing links to radical Islam and a drastic rise of a Chechen diaspora that eventually found Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston.

Williams contends that it was the atrocities committed by Russia during the second Russo-Chechen War (1999-2009) that created the conditions for many of the traditional Sufi Muslims of Chechnya to convert to Wahhabi-influenced Islam and radical jihadist terrorism. The author contends that the vast majority of Chechens remain Sufi and secular, and possess no hatred toward the West—particularly the United States; he found none during his investigation into direct links between Chechen jihadists and al-Qaida. Williams asserts that Chechen Wahhabis remain focused on Russia and not on Western society.

The author convincingly details the chronology of the radicalization of the Tsarnaev brothers and contends that they were “lone wolf” and “homegrown” terrorists. He details a contemporary Tsarnaev family history and highlights that the Tsarnaev brothers’ limited contact with the culture, language, and politics of Chechnya strongly indicate that they were intuitively Western and secular. Williams contends that it was only in the two years leading up to the Boston Marathon bombings that Tamerlan began to show a personality change indicating his radicalization. The fact that the Chechen diaspora and the Tsarnaev family found this act repugnant and shameful is in line with the general pro-Western and pro-secular viewpoints of mainstream Chechen society.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the northern Caucasus region in general and Chechnya in particular. Williams provides a firm historical perspective on the culture, religion, and politics of this volatile region and how these factors have contributed to the regional stability that exists today.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Robert C. LaPreze, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas