Argument

Black and White and Red All Over

How the hyperkinetic media is breeding a new generation of terrorists.

"Americans refuse to be terrorized," declared President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. "Ultimately, that's what we'll remember from this week." Believe that, and I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

The Boston bombings have provoked the most intense display of law enforcement and media coverage since the 9/11 attacks. Greater Boston was in full lockdown: "a ghost town," "a city in terror," "a war zone," screamed the headlines. Public transit was stopped, a no-fly zone proclaimed, people told to stay indoors, schools and universities closed, and hundreds of FBI agents pulled from other pressing investigations to focus exclusively on the case -- along with thousands upon thousands of other federal, state, and city agents equipped with heavy weapons and armored vehicles. It all came close to martial law, with all the tools of the security state mobilized to track down a pair of young immigrants with low-tech explosives and small arms who failed to reconcile their problems of identity and became suspected amateur terrorists.

Not that the events weren't shocking and brutal. But this law enforcement and media response, of course, is part of the overall U.S. reaction to terrorism since 9/11, when perhaps never in history have so few, armed with so few means, caused so much fear in so many. Indeed, as with the anarchists a century ago, last week's response is precisely the outsized reaction that sponsors of terrorism have always counted on in order to terrorize.

Nothing compares to the grief of parents whose child has been murdered like 8-year-old Martin Richard, except perhaps the collective grief of many parents, as for the 20 children killed in last December's school massacre in Newtown, Conn. Yet, despite the fact that the probability of a child, or anyone else in the United States, being killed by a terrorist bomb is vastly smaller than being killed by an unregistered handgun -- or even by an unregulated fertilizer plant -- U.S. politicians and the public seem likely to continue to support uncritically the extravagant measures associated with an irrational policy of "zero tolerance" for terrorism, as opposed to much-more-than-zero tolerance for nearly all other threats of violence. Given the millions of dollars already spent on the Boston bombing investigation and the trillions that the national response to terrorism has cost in little more than a decade, the public deserves a more reasoned response. We can never, ever be absolutely safe, no matter how much treasure we spend or how many civil liberties we sacrifice.

While there is always the chance that investigators will find foreign connections and broader plots beyond the doings of the two men suspected in the Boston bombing, our knowledge about terrorism suggests that what we already know about the April 15 bombing does not justify the disproportionate and overwrought response, including the "global security alert" U.S. authorities issued through Interpol for 190 countries. Even if the suspected Boston bombers prove to be part of a larger network of jihadi wannabes, as were the 2005 London subway suicide bombers, or had planned more operations before dying in a blaze of glory, as did the 2004 Madrid train bombers, these would-be knights under the prophet's banner could never alone wreak the havoc that our reaction to them does.

The brothers Tsarnaev, the suspected Boston bombers, have been described by neighbors, friends, and relatives as fairly normal young men -- regular Cambridge kinds. They left the Chechen conflict years ago and immigrated to the United States as asylum seekers under the U.S. government's refugee resettlement program. Tamerlan, the oldest, was married with a 3-year-old daughter. A former Golden Gloves heavyweight boxer who once thought of competing for the United States, he had been increasingly drawn to radical Islam in the last few years. In a photo essay about his fondness for boxing, he worried, "I don't have a single American friend; I don't understand them." He complained, "There are no values anymore," forswearing drinking because "God said no alcohol." Tamerlan's YouTube page posts videos of radical Islamic clerics from Chechnya and elsewhere haranguing the West as bombs explode in the background. In 2011, the FBI interviewed Tamerlan at Russia's request about connections to Chechen extremists, but the investigation found "no derogatory information." Although Russian forces withdrew from Chechnya in 2009, violence has persisted in neighboring Dagestan, where Tamerlan visited his father last year and perhaps linked up with jihadi instigators who motivated him to act. Like the father of 9/11 pilot bomber Mohamed Atta, Tamerlan's father claims his boy was framed and murdered. In his last reported phone communication, on Thursday, just hours before the police shootout began, he called his mother.

The younger brother, Dzhokhar, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, played intramural soccer. On the day after the bombing he went to the dorms, worked out at the gym, and that night went to a party attended by some of his soccer buddies. Known to his friends as Jahar, he entered the university on a scholarship but lately had been failing his classes. He hung out with other students, had an easy relationship with the other young men and women, hardly ever talked politics, and was never pegged as an Islamist activist or sympathizer or even as particularly religious. Whereas relatives, friends, and teachers consistently describe Jahar as "always smiling," "with a heart of gold," acquaintances say Tamerlan never smiled and was aggressive. One cousin said he warned Jahar about being susceptible to the negative influence of the older brother he loved. In the last few months, Jahar's tweets began turning darker: "i won't run i'll just gun you all out #thugliving," "Do I look like that much of a softy … little do these dogs know they're barking at a lion," "I killed Abe Lincoln during my two hour nap #intensedream." But declaring this wayward killer -- and a naturalized citizen, at that -- an "enemy combatant" borders on Orwellian.

Under sponsorship by the Defense Department, my multidisciplinary, multinational research team has been conducting field studies and analyses of the mental and social processes involved in radicalization at home and abroad. Our findings indicate that terrorist plotters against Western civilian populations tend not to be parts of sophisticated, foreign-based command-and-control organizations. Rather, they belong to loose, homegrown networks of family and friends who die not just for a cause, but for each other. Jihadists pretty much span the population's normal distribution: There are very few psychopaths and sociopaths, few brilliant thinkers and strategists. Jihadi wannabes today are mostly emerging adults in transitional stages of their lives -- students, immigrants, in search of jobs or companions -- who are especially prone to movements that promise a meaningful cause, camaraderie, adventure, and glory. Most have a secular education, becoming "born again" into the jihadi cause in their late teens or 20s. The path to radicalization can take years, months, or just days, depending on personal vulnerabilities and the influence of others. Occasionally there is a hookup with a relative, or a friend of a friend, who has some overseas connection to someone who can get them a bit of training and motivation to pack a bag of explosives or pull a trigger, but the Internet and social media are usually sufficient for radicalization and even operational preparation.

The result is not a hierarchic, centrally commanded terrorist movement but a decentralized, self-organizing, and constantly evolving complex of social networks based on contingent adaptations to changing events. These are no real "cells," but only clusters of mostly young men who motivate one another within "brotherhoods" of real and fictive kin. Often, in fact, there is an older brother figure, a dominant personality who mobilizes others in the group. But rarely is there an overriding authority or father figure. (Notably, for these transitional youth, there's often an absence of a real father).

Some of the most successful plots, such as the Madrid and London bombings, are so anarchic, fluid, and improbable that they succeeded in evading detection despite the fact that intelligence and law enforcement agencies had been following some of the actors for some time. Three key elements characterize the "organized anarchy" that typifies modern violent Islamic activism: Ultimate goals are vague and superficial (often no deeper than revenge against perceived injustice against Muslims around the world); modes of action are decided pragmatically on the basis of trial and error or based on the residue of learning from accidents of past experience; and those who join are not recruited but are locally linked self-seekers -- often from the same family, neighborhood, or Internet chat room -- whose connection to global jihad is more virtual than material. Al Qaeda and associates do not so much recruit as attract disaffected individuals who have already decided to embark on the path to violent extremism with the help of family, friends, or a few fellow travelers.

Like the young men who carried out the Madrid and London attacks, most homegrown jihadi plotters first hook up with the broad protest sentiment against "the global attack on Islam" before moving into a narrower parallel universe. They cut ties with former companions who they believe are too timid to act and cement bonds with those who are willing to strike. They emerge from their cocoon with strong commitment to strike and die if necessary, but without any clear contingency planning for what might happen after the initial attack.

For the first time in history, a massive, media-driven political awakening has been occurring -- spurred by the advent of the Internet, social media, and cable television -- that can, on the one hand, motivate universal respect for human rights while, on the other, enable, say, Muslims from Borneo to sacrifice themselves for Palestine, Afghanistan, or Chechnya (despite almost no contact or shared history for the last 50,000 years or so). When perceived global injustice resonates with frustrated personal aspirations, moral outrage gives universal meaning and provides the push to radicalization and violent action.

But the popular notion of a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West is woefully misleading. Violent extremism represents not the resurgence of traditional cultures, but their collapse, as young people unmoored from millennial traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance. This is the dark side of globalization.

Take Faisal Shahzad, the would-be bomber of Times Square in 2010, or Maj. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood in 2009. Both were apparently inspired by the online rhetoric of Anwar al-Awlaki, a former preacher at a Northern Virginia mosque who was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen in 2011. Although many commentators leapt to the conclusion that Awlaki and his ilk deviously brainwashed and recruited Shahzad and Hassan, in fact they sought out the popular Internet preacher because they were already radicalized to the point of wanting further guidance to act. As Defense Department terrorism consultant Marc Sageman notes: "Just like you saw Major Hasan send 21 emails to al-Awlaki, who sends him two back, you have people seeking these guys and asking them for advice." More than 80 percent of plots in both Europe and the United States were concocted from the bottom up by mostly young people just hooking up with one another.

Especially for young men, mortal combat with a "band of brothers" in the service of a great cause is both the ultimate adventure and a road to esteem in the hearts of their peers. For many disaffected souls today, jihad is a heroic cause -- a promise that anyone from anywhere can make a mark against the most powerful country in the history of the world. But because would-be jihadists best thrive and act in small groups and among networks of family and friends -- not in large movements or armies -- their threat can only match their ambitions if fueled way beyond actual strength. And publicity is the oxygen that fires modern terrorism.

It is not by arraying "every element of our national power" against would-be jihadists and those who inspire them that violent extremism will be stopped, as Obama once declared. Although wide-ranging intelligence, good police work, and security preparedness (including by the military and law enforcement) is required to track and thwart the expansion of al Qaeda affiliates into the Arabian Peninsula, Syria (and perhaps Jordan), North Africa, and East Africa, this is insufficient. As 2012 U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney quipped, "We can't kill our way out of this mess." In the United States, there are many pockets of displaced immigrant and refugee young people with even more than the usual struggles of personal development. Young Somalis seem to be having particular difficulty, and a small few are moving to the path of violent jihad. This is a good time to think about how we relate to them, though there are probably more easy mistakes than easy solutions. But political attempts to relate these problems to the very different issue of illegal immigration only adds to the scaremongering.

We need to pay attention to what makes these young men want to die to kill, by listening to their families and friends, trying to engage them on the Internet, and seeing whom they idolize, how they organize, what bonds them, and what drives them. U.S. power won't stop the self-seeking, and preaching "moderate" Islam (or moderate anything) is hardly likely to sway young men in search of significance and glory. And even if every airplane passenger were to be scanned naked or every American city locked down, it would not stop young men from joining the jihad or concocting new ways of killing civilians.

Terrorists are directly responsible for violent acts, but only indirectly for the reaction that follows. Objectively, terrorist acts on even a 9/11 scale could never seriously harm American society; only our reaction can. By amplifying and connecting relatively sporadic terrorist acts into a generalized "war" or "assault on freedom," the somewhat marginal phenomenon of terrorism has become a primary preoccupation of the U.S. government and American people. In this sense, Osama bin Laden has been victorious beyond his wildest dreams -- not because of anything he has done, but because of how we have reacted to the episodic successes he inspires.

There are several ways to react to the political hype and media amplification of terrorism. Doing nothing and allowing this frenzied media environment to continue will only encourage future attacks; meanwhile, reporting that rushes to judgment and complements law enforcement's denial of Miranda rights will only erode confidence in the integrity and fairness of the American press and U.S. government institutions. Legal regulation of media, as in many other countries, may not be compatible with a free society and if tried would certainly provoke persistent opposition and deep outrage. For example, previous attempts by the British government to ban interviews with terrorists and their supporters backfired. As the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted in 2002, "Democracies die behind closed doors." Even noncoercive guidelines are likely to incite widespread resistance. As former New York Times Executive Editor A.M. Rosenthal put it: "The last thing in the world I want is guidelines. I don't want guidelines from the government … or anyone else."

But voluntary self-restraint by the media, which is less intrusive and supported by many, is not only possible but manageable. (Venerable journalist Edward R. Murrow, informed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the specifics of the Pearl Harbor attack, declined the scoop and didn't file his report until the administration could formulate a reasoned response.) Of course, "gentle censorship," like the initially successful attempts by George W. Bush's administration to prevent airing of bin Laden messages or talks with terrorists, can seriously hamper the flow of knowledge necessary for understanding what makes terrorists tick and how to thwart them.

The First Amendment enables the news media to watchdog the republic and help prevent government excesses and abuses so that a well-informed public can monitor and decide where government policy should go. Yet the media is increasingly less a public service devoted to this task than a competitive business that believes it best succeeds through sensation, which violence privileges. For example, the typical television news story has declined from an average of several minutes in the 1950s and 1960s to today's repeated sound bites -- often no more than a few seconds -- that sensationalize the spectacular. And despite the fact that one of the suspected Boston bombers is now dead and the other in custody, it can be argued that their terrorism succeeded through the spectacular theater of last week's events, capturing our attention and stoking our deepest fears.

We can break this real, if unplanned, alliance between terrorism and the media through better reporting for the social good, which may prove to be the best business strategy of all. When we practice restraint and show the resilience of people carrying on with their lives even in the face of atrocities like that in Boston, then terrorism fails.

STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

National Security

Boston's Jihadist Past

Long before the marathon bombing, Islamists in Massachusetts were helping militants in Chechnya.

When Boston Marathon runners rounded the bend from Beacon Street last week, they were in the home stretch of the race. As they poured through the closed intersection, they ran past a nondescript address: 510 Commonwealth Avenue.

The location was once home to an international support network that raised funds and recruited fighters for a jihadist insurgency against Russian rule over Chechnya, a region and a conflict that few of the runners had likely ever given any serious thought.

One mile farther, life in Boston was transformed in an act of horror that killed three and injured scores. And one week later, everyone in Boston and around the United States is thinking and talking and asking about Chechnya.

The investigation into alleged marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is still in its infancy, but a press release issued by the FBI late Friday suggested that at least one of the brothers may have had some kind of connection to Chechen Islamist militant networks, a suspicion heightened by the fact that elder brother Tamerlan spent about six months in Russia in 2012. (The most important Chechen jihadist group has disavowed the attack, but has not unequivocally ruled out the possibility of some kind of contact with Tamerlan.)

It will take time to discover whether there was a militant connection and, if there was, to what extent it is pertinent to the Tsarnaevs' decision to bomb the marathon.

But if the lead pans out, it won't be Boston's first brush with that faraway war. During the 1980s and into the 1990s, Islamist foreign fighters operated robust recruiting and financing networks that supported Chechen jihadists from the United States, and Boston was home to one of the most significant centers: a branch of the Al Kifah Center based in Brooklyn, which would later be rechristened CARE International.

Al Kifah sprang from the military jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Through the end of the occupation, a network of centers in the United States helped support the efforts of Afghan and Arab mujahedeen, soliciting donations and recruiting fighters, including at least four from Boston who died in action (one of them a former Dunkin Donuts employee). When the war ended, those networks did not disappear; they refocused on other activities.

In Brooklyn, that network turned against the United States. The center's leaders and many of its members helped facilitate the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and they actively planned and attempted to execute a subsequent plot that summer to blow up the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels in New York, which would have killed thousands.

When the FBI thwarted the tunnels plot, the Brooklyn Al Kifah office and most of the other satellite locations were shuttered. But in Boston, the work continued under a new name and with a new focus: supporting foreign-fighter efforts in Bosnia and Chechnya.

The following narrative is derived from interviews and thousands of pages of court exhibits, including correspondence, Al Kifah and CARE International publications, and telephone intercepts developed over a years-long series of FBI investigations into the charity that were made public as part of multiple terrorism-related prosecutions.

Established in the early 1990s, the Boston branch had emerged from the World Trade Center investigation relatively unscathed. Little more than two weeks after the bombing, the head of the Boston office, Emad Muntasser, changed his operation's name from Al Kifah to CARE International (not to be confused with the legitimate charity of the same name).

Telling the IRS it was a non-political charity, CARE applied for and received a tax exemption, but its operations continued as before -- supporting jihad overseas with money and men. Although it was heavily focused on the ongoing conflicts in Bosnia and Chechnya, its interests reached around the globe to anywhere mujahideen were fighting. As one associate of the group put it in a phone call recorded by the FBI, "As long as there is slaughtering, we're with them. If there's no slaughtering, there's none, that's it. Buzz off."

The name change deflected public scrutiny, and while law enforcement monitored the Boston operation for many years, the Justice Department made no attempt to prosecute the organization's principal leaders until after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Jihadist propaganda and recruiting didn't begin with the Internet, as it sometimes seems today. CARE's tactics included dinner speeches and events at local mosques and universities, among them MIT, Boston College, and Boston University, usually slipping them in under the auspices of the local Muslim Students Association, sometimes as part of Friday services. They ran "phonathons" to contact potential donors at home with urgent appeals for generosity.

The charity also arranged public screenings of jihadist videos, long before the advent of YouTube. One letter to CARE supporters promised to "bring to your [mosque] the latest video tape from CHECHNYA showing how Grouznyy [sic] was recaptured by Muslims and how the CHECHENS are struggling to implement the Islamic rule in their land by help of Allah (S.W.T). It will be a fund raising event. For the Donations we have our direct contact to CHECHNYA."

When the Internet did come along, CARE was an early adopter, using email blasts and websites to further spread its message.

Although CARE was based in Boston, the radical fundamentalists who ran the charity (a mix of American citizens and immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa) were often disappointed with local Muslims, who were not particularly interested in their cause.

"I hate Boston," said Mohammed Chehade, a director of the Global Relief Foundation, one of the charities through which CARE laundered its money, in a phone conversation with CARE's directors that was recorded by the FBI in 2000. "Do you know why I hate it? The men are far from each other, far away, it is a trip between one and another. They are busy. I mean, Boston... if someone wants to stay in America temporarily, it is not a place to be."

In other conversations, CARE's leaders bemoaned the fact that area Muslims refused to cough up money for the network's radical speakers, suggesting that they avoid bringing prominent speakers to the city, or at least characterize the trips as something other than fundraising, for fear of an embarrassingly low result.

Nevertheless, one of those jihadist celebrities traveled to Boston on a number of occasions to raise money and the ire of audiences regarding Islamist conflicts in Chechnya and Bosnia. An American-born citizen of Egyptian descent, Mohammed Zaki sported a long red beard and a broad, engaging smile. He inspired fierce loyalty in those he met. One of his comrades described him as "a man whose like is rare nowadays," telling a comrade, "You will be amazed by him."

Zaki was involved in several so-called charities that actually helped finance and supply the mujahideen in Bosnia and Chechnya, while creating and distributing a steady stream of propaganda to support these efforts.

Based in San Diego, Zaki frequently traveled to Boston to take part in Al Kifah events and fire up crowds with his charisma and tough talk. At one point, a government wiretap overheard Muntasser, CARE's leader, asking him to fly to Boston "because we are looking for a brother who knows about matters [in Bosnia] to give an inciting speech."

Unlike some of his peers, Zaki wasn't just talk. He had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, alongside other American recruits. In 1993 and 1994, he traveled to Bosnia, where he fought alongside the mujahedeen, becoming well-known as "Abu Umar the American." He also made videotapes of the mujahedeen camps, which he took back the United States to use for fundraising. When foreign fighters began flocking to Chechnya in the mid-1990s to battle Russian forces, Zaki shifted his focus. In a telephone conversation recorded by the FBI in February 1995, he told one of his followers, "Chechnya comes first."

Zaki recruited a number of Americans to serve as Islamist foreign fighters, as well as coordinating and supporting recruitment in the Middle East. One of the young men he inspired was Aukai Collins, an American convert from an Irish family, who would wage war in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya. Dismayed by attacks on civilians under the pretext of jihad, Colllins returned to the United States in the 1990s and began working with the FBI as an informant.

A number of other American citizens or long-term residents are known to have played roles supporting Chechen jihadists over the years, although the details are sometimes murky. The exact number who have fought with or otherwise been meaningfully involved in Chechen jihadist networks is unknown, but likely runs into the dozens.

In early 1995, Zaki departed for Chechnya himself, telling a friend, "I hope that I will be granted martyrdom this time." That wish was granted in May, around a month after he arrived. According to his comrades, Zaki was discussing the Quran with his fellow fighters when the class was shelled by the Russians. Zaki was the only casualty.

Struck by shrapnel, he lingered briefly before dying. On his deathbed, he said he had seen the virgins of paradise promised to jihadist martyrs. "They told me I would follow them," he said. His supporters back in Boston took up collections for his family, a wife and four children left behind in San Diego.

The major recruiting tool for the Boston office was a newsletter called Al Hussam, which translates as "The Sword." Published in both English and Arabic, the newsletter was stuffed with short, informative news items from various fronts in the global jihad. Bosnia, the most active theater, took up most of the ink, but updates also flowed in from Chechnya, Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, and elsewhere. The authors also tried, with less success, to whip up support for Islamic revolts in Saudi Arabia and Libya.

Correspondents in Chechnya communicated with the writers of Al Hussam by phone with reports from the front lines. From time to time, the newsletter would interview prominent mujahedeen commanders and fawningly profile leaders of the movement, such as Shamil Basayev, mastermind of the notorious 2004 Beslan school massacre that left 331 people dead. One flyer distributed by CARE and affiliated charities described Basayev as "a Muslim hero."

These endorsements came because of, not in spite of, Basayev's terrorist tactics. In one issue, Al Hussam ran a glowing review of an incident in which Basayev took hundreds of hostages at a hospital. In the same edition, it praised the formation of Chechen "suicide brigades to carry on suicide attacks," writing "we have to fight evil with evil." Another issue praised a terrorist bombing attack against a Russian mediator who was trying to negotiate a ceasefire with the mujahideen.

Checks flowed into CARE from individuals around the United States -- sometimes just $10 or $50, with the word "Chechen Muslim fighters" or "martyr's family" scrawled in the memo line. Sometimes individual donations ran into the thousands. The total collected from 1993 to 2003 was $1.7 million, according to the Justice Department.

Once deposited with CARE, the money was laundered through other fraudulent charities, including the al Qaeda-linked Benevolence International Foundation and the Global Relief Foundation, both in Chicago, and sent to front organizations in Bosnia and Chechnya. In total, hundreds of thousands of dollars passed through CARE for distribution to jihadists and jihad-support organizations overseas.

A significant portion of that money -- exactly how much is difficult to determine -- went to support Chechen Islamist fighters, although CARE International's books listed the recipients as orphanages and refugees. Individual transfers could be as low as $1,000 but often ran between $20,000 and $30,000. Funds, and occasionally supplies, were transferred to a contact in Chechnya through an elaborate series of middlemen, including individuals in Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The FBI monitored CARE's activities, off and on, for nearly a decade, but the Justice Department never made an effort to prosecute, in part because prosecuting foreign-fighter activity was difficult under existing laws.

But after September 11, the U.S. government aggressively pursued anything relating to jihadist extremism, including several cases of foreign-fighter support. Just weeks after the attacks, the Justice Department shuttered the Global Relief Foundation and the Benevolence International Foundation, raiding the latter's offices in Chicago and Sarajevo, where they found extensive evidence of support for foreign fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya, as well as significant links to al Qaeda. They also found checks and receipts from CARE.

It took longer to build a case against CARE. In 2005, prosecutors in Boston went after the charity's directors using the Al Capone strategy. Muntasser and fellow Boston-area CARE officials Samir Al Monla and Muhamed Mubayyid were charged with filing false tax returns and related crimes, having misrepresented their political and militant activity as relief for orphans and widows in order to obtain a nonprofit tax exemption.

The strategy was not as successful as it was with Capone. The defendants were convicted but received minimal sentences after years of appeals and legal disputes. Muntasser and Al Monla have since been released from prison and are living in the United States, according to public records databases. Mubayyid was deported after a short sentence and was last reported to be living in Australia.

Some of the group's other associates, linked to al Qaeda, were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder overseas. But many involved in CARE's operations at various levels were never arrested.

In some cases, people who were involved in supporting jihadist activity abroad came to realize after 9/11 that their often well-intentioned support had been used to support terrorism against civilians and against the United States, and stopped participating in the scene.

Others were simply not implicated adequately to prosecute, although they may have played important roles. Not everyone involved with CARE went to jail, but the organization itself had shut down when the IRS and FBI began investigating it aggressively in 2003, and almost no one involved completely escaped scrutiny.

Although the formal network had collapsed, its activism echoed through Boston's radical scene for years afterward and those echoes persist today.

In 2008, Boston-area resident Tarek Mehanna wrote a widely circulated piece called "The Aafia Siddiqui I Saw" about local residents' experience with Siddiqui, a former MIT student arrested in Afghanistan and charged with trying to murder U.S. personnel. Siddiqui had been an enthusiastic volunteer with CARE International.

Mehanna himself was convicted of material support of terrorism, in part for translating and disseminating al Qaeda propaganda online, and in April 2012, he was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison.

Today, traffic on Commonwealth Avenue has returned to normal, and the office building that once hosted CARE International is filled with other people -- restaurants, an art gallery, residential apartments, and more. The story that unfolded there more than a decade ago will not be remembered as keenly as what happened last week, and rightly so. But Boston's first encounter with the Chechen jihad holds a place in the history of that event, a reminder that sometimes what happened behind the headlines can have unexpected resonance with the events of the day. 

MICHAEL EVSTAFIEV/AFP/Getty Images