Washington – A majority of Muslims (57%) in Russia’s North Caucasus – including Chechnya, Dagestan and five other Russian jurisdictions – are either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about religious extremist groups in their country, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
That number is higher than Russia as a whole, where more than four-in-10 Muslims in the country express the same level of concern.
This region of the world, particularly Chechnya and Dagestan, has been in the news recently because the suspects in last week’s Boston Marathon bombing – Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger brother who is still alive, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother who died in a shootout last week – had familial ties to the region.
The two brothers were born in Kyrgyzstan, where 62% of Muslims told Pew they were very or somewhat concerned about extremism in the central Asian country.
Monday night, Dzhokhar told investigators that his older brother, Tamerlan, was the mastermind behind the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured more than 260 people. Tamerlan appears to have become increasingly religious in the years leading up to the bombing, and interviews with family in Russia indicate that the older brother was radicalized while in America.
While there is so far no evidence that the brothers were associated to international jihadist groups, in August 2012, soon after returning from a long visit to Russia, Tamerlan created a YouTube channel with links to a number of videos including sermons or interviews with radical preachers.
Though extremist groups from Chechnya have carried out terrorist acts since the early 2000s, most of those attacks have been focused on Russia. An example: the Beslan school hostage crises in September 2004, where more than 300 people were killed.
Though experts say the Caucasus are quieter now, Thomas de Waal, an expert on the region, says there is a constant a low-level Islamist insurgency there.
The Pew data released Tuesday is part of a larger report on the state of Islam conducted from October 2011 to February 2012, with research collected before the Boston bombings.
The survey also found that Muslims in Russia’s North Caucasus – the dominant religion in the region – are more concerned about Islamic extremist groups than Christian groups. Thirty-six percent of Muslims said they were primarily worried about Islamic extremists, while only 2% indicated they were worried about Christian groups.
Russia, as a whole, is primarily Christian, with 73% of its population identifying with the faith, according to Pew’s 2012 Global Religious Landscape report. About 10% of the country’s population is Muslim – most of which live in the Russian Caucasus.
Likewise, in the brothers' birthplace of Kyrgyzstan, 32% of Muslims were concerned about Islamic extremist groups, while 5% were concerned with Christian extremism. According to Pew’s numbers on world religions, Muslims make up 88% of the country’s population, while 11% of Kyrgyz people are Christian.
In light of the bombing, Muslim leaders in Boston and around the United States condemned the attacks. “I don't care who or what these criminals claim to be, but I can never recognize these criminals as part of my city or my faith community," said Yusufi Vali, executive director for the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the largest mosque in the Boston area.
Imam Talal Eid, the imam at the Boston Islamic Institute, told CNN that he would refuse to give Tamerlan last rites. "A person who is devoted does not kill innocent people," Eid said.