Did a foreign hand guide Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev?
US investigators are interested in a trip that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother suspected in the Boston bombing, took to the North Caucasus region of Russia in 2012. They want to know whether he had contact with foreign extremist groups.
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As the 19-year-old recovers in a Boston hospital from throat and leg wounds he sustained in the same shootout, investigators are combing through seized computers, questioning contacts, and revisiting a closed file the FBI had opened on Tamerlan Tsarnaev after Russia asked the US in 2011 to investigate the ethnic Chechen as an adherent of radical Islam and for links to extremist groups.
The FBI closed the file after questioning Tamerlan and family members but finding no evidence of contacts with terrorist organizations.
But evidence is surfacing of a radicalization that began at least as early as 2009, when the cars-and-clothes-loving Tamerlan informed an uncle he was giving all that up “to do God’s business.”
And what did the community-college dropout do in Chechnya and Dagestan – the latter being the focal point of a jihadist anti-Russia insurgency – when he visited the two North Caucasus regions for six months last year? One obvious question US investigators will ask their Russian counterparts is: Given that you were already worried about Tamerlan in 2011, did you keep tabs on him when he returned last year? If so, what did you learn?
“What I want to know is, what did the Russians do when [Tamerlan] went back to Russia?” former Bush White House terrorism adviser Richard Clarke queried Sunday on ABC’s "This Week." “Did they follow him around? That’s a question we need an answer to.”
The brothers’ father, who now lives in the Dagestan capital of Makhachkala, says his son returned to renew his Russian passport.
But Dagestan has recently become a focal point of Chechen rebel leader Dokka Umarov, who has come to be known as the “Osama bin Laden of Russia,” as his war with Russia has transitioned in recent years from a nationalist campaign of independence for Chechnya to one more closely associated with radical Islam.
As the Chechen rebellion has shifted to a broader fight for a reunited Muslim region across central and even south Asia, links between radical Chechens, Uzbeks, and other central Asians and their Al Qaeda counterparts in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region have strengthened, according to some Al Qaeda and Islamist extremism experts.