Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the Penumbra of Terror

The semi-official story coming out of Washington, and the Western media, is that the Tsarnaev brothers were “self-radicalized” loners, “losers,” as their uncle Ruslan put it, unconnected to any larger organization or terrorist network. The poor babies were so alienated by life in America – where they had been given refugee status, welfare payments, and, in Dzhokhar’s case, citizenship – that they suddenly decided to carry out a terrorist act in which three were killed and hundreds wounded.

Move along, nothing to see here …

There’s just one problem with this story: it’s unraveling.

As we learn more about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s travels through Russia – he visited Dagestan, and went to Chechnya, in 2012 – and the Russian media examines his trail, a picture emerges of the penumbra of terror that hovered over and around him. Two names have cropped up: Makhmud Mansur Nidal, an 18-year-old of Chechen and Palestinian heritage, and recruiter for the Chechen insurgency, who was observed meeting with Tamerlan six times, and William Plotnick, a Canadian of Russian ethnicity – and, like Tamerlan, a boxer – who traveled to Dagestan in 2010. There Plotnick was interrogated by the authorities – who gave Tamerlan as one of his contacts: the two had communicated online via the web site of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth.

Plotnick came to Toronto, Canada, at the age of 15, the son of Christian ethnic Russians from Siberia: like Tamerlan, who was a Golden Gloves champion, Plotnick was a rising star in the world of amateur boxing, where he won medals and was praised by his coach as having Olympian potential. However, his conversion to Islam in 2009 put him on a different path – and he wound up dead less than three years later, in a firefight with security forces in the hinterlands of Dagestan.

Plotnick’s parents were puzzled and worried about their son’s sudden transformation into a religious fanatic, but their remonstrations were to no avail. One day they found a note on the kitchen table, informing them that he had gone to France “to celebrate Ramadan,” after emptying the family bank account of $3,500. Months passed with no word from him, until they found out he had – somehow – turned up in Moscow, where he was staying at the apartment of a mutual friend from Toronto.

From there he went on to Dagestan: by this time his frantic father had contacted Russia’s FSB, and they paid him a visit: they interrogated him about his online contacts, and he gave Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s name – which is how the Marathon bombing mastermind first showed up on their radar screen. The FSB released Plotnick and told him to go home: instead he went back to Moscow, briefly, but soon returned to Dagestan and joined up with the Chechen insurgents.

Plotnick starred in one of their propaganda videos – really, a recruiting video – which was circulated around the internet. He interviews a Turkish recruit, asking him “What do you do?” “Terrorism” is the reply. “I kill kaffirs.” Sitting down next to him, Plotnick addresses his audience directly:

“We have food to cook and eat, thanks to Allah. And also have brothers and try to do as much as we can for Allah. Kafirs, you’re not going to get what you expect. Allah is with us. He protects us. You don’t have a protector.

“We will kill you. We’re going to build plans against you. But no matter how many plans you make, nothing is going to succeed because whatever He described in His book is the truth. Allah is the truth. All of you others are waste, garbage.”

Plotnick was killed in an ambush by security forces on July 13, 2012. Tsarnaev left for the United States three days later.

We’re going to build plans against you” – plans in which Tamerlan Tsarnaev played a key part?

The answer to that question is not yet clear, but there is some evidence pointing in that direction. To begin with, the two were in communication, and it’s possible they could have met in person when Tamerlan attended a boxing event and visited his aunt who lives in Toronto. Secondly, on his Youtube site, Tamerlan posted videos valorizing Plotnick’s group, led by one Gadhzhimurad Dolgatov, a Russian convert to Islam and a local commander of the Caucasian “Emirate” Chechen terrorist group. Dolgatov was killed in a shootout with security forces in December of last year, in Makhachkala, the regional capital of Dagestan where Tsarnaev stayed during his Russian sojourn and where his parents live today.

All of this raises some intriguing questions, but for the moment let us step back and look at the bigger picture. Clearly, there is an extensive recruiting effort by Chechen terrorist groups to draw in fighters from around the world: Plotnick, and apparently Tsarnaev, were drawn into this web. But what kind of help did they have? How did Plotnick, who only had $3,500 Canadian on him when he left for France, manage to live abroad for months and travel to Russia? What did he use for money? Tsarnaev’s financial condition was similar: how does an unemployed ex-boxer travel to Dagestan and otherwise support himself? There are news accounts saying the Tsarnaev brothers may have financed their terrorist plot by selling marijuana, but how does one travel to Dagestan and otherwise move about with no regular source of income?

For that, we turn to the Russian daily Izvestia and the Russian-1 television network, which report the contents of an intelligence dossier leaked by Col. Grigory Chanturia, of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, which claims that, in the summer of 2010, an organization calling itself the “Caucasian Fund,” or, alternately, the “Kavkazsky Fund,” co-sponsored with the Washington, D.C.-based Jamestown Foundation a series of “seminars” for North Caucasian youth – and that Tamerlan was one of the attendees.

The Fund was set up after the Georgian-Ossetian war, with $2.5 million expended to do “outreach” to “North Caucasian youth.” The program brought in Chechens and others from the European diaspora, and reportedly encouraged the participants in their militance: is this how Plotnick made it from France to Dagestan?

In response to these reports, the newly-elected President of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili, made a remarkable statement that has been completely ignored in the Western media:

It is possible that terrorists had been trained in Georgia, but the investigation is underway. Let’s wait for its results. We will get a lot of new information, maybe even some shocking findings. There are suspicions that the authorities worked with terrorists and militants. If this information is confirmed, this will be shocking.”

To say the least.

In response to the charge that the previous government had been in the business of harboring terrorists, former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, on a visit to the US, said “America will not take Ivanishvili’s words seriously.”

Perhaps not, but it seems passing strange that the elected President of one of our biggest allies in the Caucasus is investigating this possibility, while the American media – which has been obsessed with tracing the trail of the Boston Marathon terrorists – has so far ignored the Georgian connection.

That the Saakashvili government had every interest in destabilizing Russia’s hold over neighboring Dagestan is beyond dispute: the two countries fought a war in 2008, and were bitter enemies well before that. According to Radio Free Europe, a report by the new Public Defender in Georgia says that the Georgian Interior Ministry under Saakasvili “recruited and flew to Tbilisi from Europe up to 120 refugees from the North Caucasus, primarily Chechens, to undergo training prior to crossing the border into Russia and joining the insurgency. The men were housed in apartments in Tbilisi, trained at the Shavnabada and Vaziani military bases, and issued with licenses for their weapons.”

Izvestia says the Caucasus Fund was shuttered in late 2012 because it had attracted the FSB’s attention, and one former official of the group is quoted as saying the organization has been almost entirely defunct since January. However, they do have a web site, and, conveniently an American office in Boston. They are described here as a commercial venture, with capitalization of $92 million. $30 million of that comes from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a joint US government-private sector agency. Both the Fund and the Jamestown Foundation deny any involvement.

While the details still have to be fleshed out, one thing is clear: Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s journey to the finish line at the Boston Marathon wasn’t the hegira of a “lone nut” who acted without direction, compatriots, or outside help. Remember Plotnick’s last known message to the West: “We’re going to build plans against you.”

And so they did.

The Georgian connection points to a classic case of “blowback.” A covert operation conducted against the Russian government, originally, that got out of hand – and came back to bite the hand that fed it. The irony here is that such figures as Zbigniew Brzezinski, who sits on the board of the Jamestown Foundation, were responsible for the anti-Soviet “strategy” that allied the US with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan when the Russians invaded – a ruse that backfired spectacularly on September 11, 2001.


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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].