Marco Werman: Laure Mandeville has been to Chechnya. For 20 years she covered Russia and its Caucasus region for the French newspaper Le Figaro.Mandeville is now chief US correspondent for that paper and she came to Boston over the weekend to speak with members of the Chechen community here, and to friends and neighbors of Boston bombing suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Laure Mandeville: Well, it was extremely strange because I had all these information my head that I had read in the American media about the two brothers Tsarnaev. So I had a feeling that I knew these guys, and then having covered Chechnya, also having an idea of their sort of psychology and going from house to house, shop to shop, restaurants in the streets around and in this Norfolk Street, it was very bizarre as if walking in their steps and actually knowing them and meeting a lot of people that knew these guys, it was a very family-like community.
Werman: And rather well-liked from my understanding. You spoke with some of Dzhokhar's classmates. What did they tell you about 'em?
Mandeville: Yeah, they all mentioned that Dzhokhar was a very nice and open guy, pretty joyful, I mean it was very striking, the unanimous positive echoes that I got. And, for instance, I went to the gas station a couple of blocks away from their house and the guy who is a student from Morocco, he told me that he knew Dzhokhar, that he was a great guy, they talked together about school and exchanged jokes, and he was actually at the gas station when Dzhokhar and Tamerlan came to carjack a car.
Werman: Wow. Now, you've also spoken with Chechens in the greater Boston area. What do they think about this whole episode?
Mandeville: They are totally crushed. They are stunned and horrified by what has happened and they are trying to understand because for the Chechen community, coming to the west, I also talked to a lot of Chechen in France, there are a lot of Chechen refugees, and they are all saying, "We came to the west to escape Russia, to escape the horrible tragedy of the Chechen war and he we found a peaceful place. We are very grateful to America, to Europe that they welcomed us, so we just can't understand how a Chechen could do that." And they're also in denial, thinking it's some kind of plot.
Werman: Having covered the war in Chechnya, Laure, I mean how do you make sense of this? Does it compute?
Mandeville: Frankly it doesn't compute and if you link directly to Chechnya precisely because of what these Chechen are saying, that the Chechen see the west as kind of an escape and sort of a counterbalance to Russia, that they see Russia as evil, their enemy, so the west was the friend, the supporter. At the same time it reminds me much more of the sort of lone wolf stories of radicalization, also very strange of people like Faisal Shahzad, the Time Square bombing, people seemingly integrated, but some kind of dissonance between their identities, but it's still very, very strange and everyone is asking why.
Werman: If you had to set aside kinda some particular Chechen dissonance, what is that?
Mandeville: I was actually very interested when looking into the website of Dzhokhar, that he was actually living it seems to me in two different worlds. He had his American world, this world of adoption. He came to American, he had his buddies, he was pretty nice to everyone. But was he totally intimate with the American society? That's the question I have because this is a country of different communities and they are friendly, but they are not maybe totally close. And the Chechen society, they need these very intimate daily interaction and I think he found that much more strangely on the internet with the Chechen and Caucasian community, and I would say, more largely the Russophone community. And when you look into the website he's having jokes here, he's totally at peace with this Caucasian-Russophone as if he was being swallowed back by a culture that he didn't actually know which is very strange.
Werman: And you're talking about the younger brother now?
Mandeville: Yes. I find it very strange that he grew up here, but at the same time he was being swallowed, it seems to me, by the world he came from and the world that he didn't know so well.
Werman: You talk about these intimate interactions that Chechen come to expect on a day-to-day basis. What about family? Where does that fit in? Is that part of those intimate interactions?
Mandeville: Oh, it's extremely powerful in the Chechen world. Everything sort of circles around the family. So I think the father and the mother and the grandparents sort of give a sort of center of gravity to the family, and I guess when the parents went back . . .
Werman: Which was how many years ago?
Mandeville: We don't know exactly. I think it's about a year ago or a year and half. Maybe the father went back earlier because he was sick and so the two brothers were left alone. The older was already, it seems, on a bad path, I mean not being integrated, not having a job, sitting at home with the kids while his wife was working which in Chechnya would be degrading. The man has to bring the money; the woman has to stay home. So I think for him it was probably some kind of failure and probably Dzhokhar, the youngest, he was under the influence of his brother because in this world the older brother is always the one you look up to and he would always, it seems, follow what the brother would say.
Werman: Laure Mandeville, a chief US correspondent for Le Figaro. Thanks so much.
Mandeville: Thank you for inviting me.
Werman: International news in our own back yard. Find more of our in-depth coverage of the marathon bombings and their aftermath from our team here in Boston, including interviews with many people who knew the suspects and many more impacted by the story. That's all at theworld.org.