TOKMOK, Kyrgyzstan − One trail in the search for clues about why two ethnic Chechen brothers may have carried out the Boston Marathon bombings leads to a sleepy town in Kyrgyzstan where former neighbors recall a quiet family that was never in trouble.
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are remembered as decent and obedient boys from their time in the 1990s in the small community of Chechens in Tokmok, a leafy town under the snow-capped Tien Shan mountains outside the capital Bishkek.
Tamerlan, the elder of the two, studied well. His father, Anzor, made a living selling used cars and was welcomed with open arms when he visited the town again two years ago, 10 years after the family left for Russia and then the United States.
The news that Tamerlan had been shot dead by police and Dzhokhar captured after a day-long manhunt on suspicion of carrying out Monday’s bombing, in which three people were killed, was greeted with shock and disbelief.
“The Tsarnaevs were such a good family. They yearned to be well-educated. None of them were rowdy. It was a very cultured family,” said former neighbor Raisa Badrudi Tsokayev, a friend of the father, waved his hands repeatedly as he described his shock at hearing the news. “I wouldn’t imagine seeing this even in a nightmare,” Tsokayev, 60, said. “As a child, Tamerlan was such a quiet boy. Today everyone is calling me with just one question − is this true?”
He said Anzor Tsarnaev had been fiercely proud of Tamerlan’s prowess in the boxing ring and said his son had been looking forward to going to the Russian city of Sochi to watch the 2014 Winter Olympics next February.
In separate interviews, the parents of the Tsarnaev brothers said they believed their sons were incapable of carrying out the bombings.
“Somebody clearly framed them. I don’t know who exactly framed them, but they did. They framed them. And they were so cowardly that they shot the boy dead,” Anzor Tsarnaev said in an interview with Reuters in Dagestan’s provincial capital, Makhachkala, clasping his head in despair.
The mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, told Russia Today state television: “It’s impossible, impossible, for both of them to do such things, so I am really, really, really telling that this is a setup.”
It is in this town of 53,000 that the boys would have become aware of their Chechen roots. Dzhokhar, now 19, years later posted links to Islamic websites and others calling for Chechen independence on what appears to be his page on a Russian-language social networking site.
They would have learnt about the difficult fate suffered by their predecessors in Soviet times that has fostered a sense of injustice among some Chechens and helped fuel an independence drive in the Chechnya region of Russia’s North Caucasus that led to two wars with Moscow in the 1990s.
The brothers would have become more familiar with Islamist militancy when they moved in 2001 to Dagestan, the southern Russian province which lies at the heart of an Islamist insurgency and sees daily violence, and where their parents still live.
In Tokmok, the Tsarnaev clan alone inhabited a whole street before most of them moved back to their native village of Chiri-Yurt in Chechnya in the 1960s, residents said. About 20 Chechen families still live in a district popularly known as the Glass Factory, after the building that dominates it.
Kyrgyzstan, a mainly Muslim nation of 5.5 million which hosts U.S. and Russian military air bases, had a huge influx of ethnic Chechens in 1944.
The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the biggest mosque in the area, said in a statement that it was shutting its doors until further notice.