News / Europe

Experts Suspect Russia Has More Intel on Alleged Boston Bomber

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, left, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. The ethnic Chechen brothers are the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, left, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. The ethnic Chechen brothers are the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing.
Fatima Tlisova
Two leading experts on the Russian republic of Dagestan suspect Moscow knows a lot more about one of the accused Boston Marathon bombers than it is telling U.S. investigators. Another warns unrest in the Caucasus region, which includes Dagestan, could spill over into February’s winter Olympics in Sochi, less than a day’s drive away on the Black Sea.

Two ethnic Chechen residents of the Boston area–Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev–were accused of last week’s marathon bombing. Tamerlan, 26, was killed in a shootout with Boston police last Friday and Dzhokhar, 19, was captured later the same day.

Tamerlan spent half of 2012 in Dagestan, ostensibly to visit relatives. U.S. investigators are trying to determine if the lengthy visit included contacts with Islamist factions and extremists groups that have been a source of turmoil in the region for years.

In Boston, Tamerlan had expressed sympathies with the ideologies of such groups.

‘Black spot’ in the story

“Tamerlan’s trip to Dagestan remains one of the major ‘black spots’ in the story of the Boston bombers,” said Jean-Francois Ratelle, a professor at George Washington University in Washington. Ratelle worked in Dagestan researching the radicalization of Islamic youths in the Caucasus region.

The mother of the two Boston bombing suspects, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, with the suspects' father Anzor Tsarnaev, left, speaks at a news conference in Makhachkala, the southern Russian province of Dagestan, April 25, 2013.The mother of the two Boston bombing suspects, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, with the suspects' father Anzor Tsarnaev, left, speaks at a news conference in Makhachkala, the southern Russian province of Dagestan, April 25, 2013.
The mother of the two Boston bombing suspects, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, with the suspects' father Anzor Tsarnaev, left, speaks at a news conference in Makhachkala, the southern Russian province of Dagestan, April 25, 2013.
The mother of the two Boston bombing suspects, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, with the suspects' father Anzor Tsarnaev, left, speaks at a news conference in Makhachkala, the southern Russian province of Dagestan, April 25, 2013.
Ratelle said Russia’s FSB intelligence agency closely monitors Islamist groups in Dagestan.

“I grew a beard and was spending time among young, the young radicals," he said. "That was enough for being under constant surveillance, for being detained several times and questioned."

Prior to Tamerlan’s Dagestan trip, Russian intelligence contacted both the FBI and CIA inquiring about Tsarnaev, warning that he might try “to join unspecified underground groups” if he visited the Caucasus region. But, according to the FBI and CIA, Moscow did not supply additional information despite repeated requests.

Ratelle said it was “very interesting” that Russian intelligence did not follow up with a report on Tamerlan’s Dagestan visit despite its earlier warning.

Russians provide no details

Another Dagestan expert troubled by Moscow’s silence is Walter Richmond, professor of Russian studies at Occidental College in California.

“Did Tamerlan Tsarnaev travel to Russia to get to the terrorist training camps?” Richmond said. “We don’t have an answer since the Russian government agency did not provide us with details of his six month stay in Dagestan. [It's] very strange, the fact that a young man who was on the watch list of the Russian security services as a suspect in terrorist activities was allowed to enter the country’s most troubled region, stay and leave with no reported encounter with any of the government agencies.”

Russia, highlighting DagestanRussia, highlighting Dagestan

Ratelle said he would not be at all surprised if Tamerlan came away from last year’s visit to Dagestan as a much more “radicalized” Islamist.

“I have witnessed many of my young acquaintances in Makhachkala [the regional capital] becoming radicalized during my stay in Dagestan,” he said. “If a young man like Tamerlan Tsarnaev wishes to become a ‘pure Muslim,’ Dagestan is the right access point to get closer to that ideology.”

​And Glen E. Howard, president of the Jamestown Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank, believes the turmoil in the Caucasus region could spell trouble for the winter Olympics, scheduled in Sochi, just across the Caucasus Mountains from Dagestan.

“The big question we in the West, and especially in the U.S., should be asking ourselves today is about the risks of dispatching thousands of our athletes and spectators to the Olympics in Sochi,” Howard said.

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Comment Sorting
by: Vlad from: Fort Lee, NJ
April 26, 2013 11:36 AM
So, VOA is now peddling conspiracy theories in support of the Jamestown Foundation's long standing agenda of cancelling the Sochi Olympics? Shameful!

by: alex from: New York
April 26, 2013 10:41 AM
I find it interesting that you are all pointing fingers, the information was provided to the FBI about a possible terrorist, they closed the case, why? When are we going to take responsibility for our actions exactly? Because this approach is not how we get there. When you receive intel from a country such as Russia, this has to be taken seriously, and it was not (due to the extent of the investigation).

Let's look at ourselves before we point fingers at the people that tried to help us, otherwise they will not help us again.

Have a good weekend!

by: Derek from: NYC
April 26, 2013 10:01 AM
The Chechens fought lost 2 wars for independence from Russia (1994-95 and 1999). Since then Russia has been trying to portray the Chechen rebels as jihadists; extremist Muslims even though the Chechens have more in common w/ Russians than Arab jihadists or Afghan Taliban. There has never been in any evidence of a link b/t Chechen separatists and Al Qaeda. No Chechens have ever been found fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Chechens are Muslim and the rebels often invoke Islam in their fight but their war is a political one for independence from Russia, not a religious fundamentalist war against non-Muslims. Human rights NGOs; the US have lambasted Russia for its severe human rights violations in Chechnya.

by: Ramzan from: Grozny
April 26, 2013 4:51 AM
Yet another massacre has occurred in the historically war-torn region of the Southern United States – and so soon after the religious festival of Easter.

Brian McConkey, 27, a Christian fundamentalist militiaman living in the formerly occupied territory of Alabama, gunned down three men from an opposing tribe in the village square near Montgomery, the capitol, over a discussion that may have involved the rituals of the local football cult. In this region full of heavily-armed local warlords and radical Christian clerics, gun violence is part of the life of many.

Many of the militiamen here are ethnic Scots-Irish tribesmen, a famously indomitable mountain people who have killed civilized men – and each other – for centuries. It appears that the wars that started on the fields of Bannockburn and Stirling have come to America.

As the sun sets over the former Confederate States of America, one wonders – can peace ever come to this land?

by: Gennady from: Russia, Volga Region
April 25, 2013 9:04 PM
I completely agree that Moscow’s unwillingness to provide Intel information in such high profile case looks more than suspicious in two respects: 1)either Moscow keeps the Intel in the hope for exchange of softening West’s attitude to iron fist rule of Mr Putin in Russia and his challenge to the West. It questions sincerity of Mr Putin’s call on the USA “to push together”. 2) or Moscow is caught in a foul play as the the Kremlin wanted to use Tamerlan Tsarnaev for speedily mending bilateral relations. Just remember how blasts of apartment houses over Russia were used to justify war in Chechnys. Tamerlan might through double agents (islamists/FSB) actually have spent six months in a FSB training camp, disguised as belonging to Islamists . I have no doubts that there are plenty of such camps in the region.
In Response

by: Richard from: Dallas, Texas, USA
April 26, 2013 12:17 AM
It does seem odd to me that the bombs used worked so well, especially as Dzhokhar said they did not test them prior to use. It seems to me that most of the time, home-made bombs either detonate prematurely, or not at all.

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