Federal investigators have learned that the main suspect in last month’s Boston Marathon bombing met with an exiled former Chechen rebel fighter in Manchester, New Hampshire less than a month before carrying out the attack that killed three and wounded more than 260.
Police in Manchester confirmed to VOA that FBI agents have searched the home of the former Chechen resistance figure, Musa Khadjimuradov, and examined the hard drives of his computers. Khadjimuradov confirmed to VOA that FBI agents came to his home on Tuesday with search warrants and also took a sample of his DNA and impressions of his fingerprints.
Khadjimuradov also said he had had repeated contacts over the past several years with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, the Boston bombing suspect who was killed in a shootout with police April 19. Tsarnaev’s brother, Dzhokhar, 19, was captured by police later that day.
Police charged both Tsarnaev brothers in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing case after identifying them on video tapes taken at the explosion sites near the finish line of the race.
According to Khadjimuradov, the FBI first interviewed him about the case on April 29. He said FBI and Homeland Security agents had been in frequent contact with him ever since.
Tuesday’s FBI visit
He said the agents showed up on Tuesday with search warrants and began asking him about Tamerlan Tsarnaev practicing marksmanship at a Manchester shooting range (http://www.gunsnh.com/index.php
), and buying large quantities of fireworks last February at a fireworks store in Seabrook, New Hampshire, about an hour’s drive away from Manchester.
The FBI has said its tests on the Boston bombing debris determined that the devices used explosives extracted from commercially available fireworks. According to the FBI, Tsarnaev bought $200 fireworks kit at the Seabrook store last Feb. 6, containing 24 black powder packed shells. The FBI report said the store gave him another similar kit for free as a purchase bonus.
“They [the FBI agents] saying he [Tsarnaev] has a shooting practice here in New Hampshire, like two or three times,” Khadjimuradov said. “So he buy fireworks here from New Hampshire, you know, and he buy some ammunition rounds here in New Hampshire. And before the attack, like three or four weeks, came to my house, so now I believe they thinking like he [was] up in New Hampshire [and] like I tried to help him or do something, you know, like that.”
Khadjimuradov came to the United States from Chechnya in 2004 under the auspices of the United Nations refugee program. He is paralyzed from the waist down from gunshot wounds suffered in Chechnya in 2001 and uses a wheelchair to get around.
According to Khadjimuradov, he first met Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2006 at the annual gathering of the Chechen Society of Boston. He said Tsarnaev subsequently visited him three times in Manchester, the last time with his American wife, Katherine, and their young child.
He said he and Tamerlan never discussed Tsarnaev’s fervent embrace of Islam, the cause of Chechen independence from Russia or politics of any kind.
“Nothing, never. He never talked about the religious, politics or anything like that to me,” Khadjimuradov said.
Russia’s interest in the case
During one visit in the summer of 2012, he said Tamerlan told him of his six month stay in his native Dagestan the first half of that year. The Dagestan visit has been the subject of intense interest to U.S. and Russian investigators, who have been trying to find out if Tsarnaev had dealings with Chechen rebels while there.
Even before Tsarnaev’s trip to Dagestan in the first half of last year, Russia’s FSB intelligence agency had contacted both the FBI and CIA inquiring about him and warning that Tsarnaev might try “to join unspecified underground groups” if he visited the Caucasus region.
Though Khadjimuradov said the FBI agents told him he was not a suspect in the Boston bombing case, he said he believed their intensified interest in him stemmed from his own background in the separatist cause back in his Chechnya homeland as well as Russia’s interest in the case.
Before leaving Chechnya in 2004, Khadjimuradov was an aide to one of the most prominent leaders of the Chechen separatist movement, Akhmed Zakayev, who now lives in exile in London. Moscow considers Zakayev a war criminal and has asked for his extradition, but Britain has refused.
“Zakayev is first on the FSB black list for assassination, so now they try to get to him by labeling him a terrorist,” Khadjimuradov speculated.
VOA's Brian Padden contributed to this report.
(In an earlier version of this story the city of Seabrook, New Hampshire was incorrectly identified as Seabook.)