The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 19, 2013

PSU professors voice surprise about background of suspects

PITTSBURG, Kan. — The Chechen nationality of the two suspects in the Boston bombings came as a surprise to two professors at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University.

“This just seems out in left field,” said Paul Zagorski, PSU professor of history, philosophy and social sciences. He specializes in international relations.

Zagorski said by phone that Chechen terrorists have primarily had Russian targets. He said Chechens, a distinct ethnic group from Russians, are Muslims. Their nationality and ethnicity has often played a larger role in their attacks than religious extremism.

“There’s been a lot of terrorism emanating out of that part of the world, largely against Russian targets,” Zagorski said. “We don’t seem the logical place to attack.”

He said that has caused him to develop theories about the suspects.

“These guys have the hallmarks of self-starters or lone wolves,” Zagorski said.

Chechnya, a republic of Russia, has been the source of unrest on and off since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. Apartment bombings in several Russian cities, including Moscow, took place in 1999. The bombings killed about 300 Russians. There also was an incident in 2002 at a Moscow theater where militant Chechens took 850 hostages, demanding the withdrawal of the Russian military from Chechnya. Russians pumped a gas into the theater that killed the Chechens and 130 of the hostages. Zagorski said the Russian government has sometimes been heavy-handed in putting down unrest.

Stephen Harmon, associate professor of history, philosophy and social sciences at PSU, specializes in terrorism in the Middle East and Africa. He said it would be less surprising if the bombers were Yemeni or Saudi or Pakistani.

“What their motivation is, it’s hard to say,” Harmon said in a phone interview.

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