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US, Russia missed chances to intercept Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Russia warned the US about the future Boston Marathon bomber back in 2011. But when Mr. Tsarnaev returned to Russia the next year, authorities there apparently left him alone. 

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Missed opportunities 

The emerging trail of evidence suggests that Russian security forces did indeed warn the FBI about the elder of the two brothers accused in the bombing, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. A statement posted on the FBI website admits that "in early 2011, a foreign government asked the FBI for information about Mr. Tsarnaev. The request stated that it was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups."

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The statement continues: "The FBI interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and family members. The FBI did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign." The "foreign government" – which officials have since admitted was Russia – was informed before the matter was subsequently put to rest, it says.

But Russian security, inexplicably, also dropped the ball, apparently failing to pick up the elder Tsarnaev brother or even question him during a lengthy visit to Russia the next year. The Dagestani Interior Ministry, the main law enforcement body in the Caspian republic of Dagestan, where Tsarnaev spent as many as seven months in 2012 visiting relatives, said in a statement Saturday that "the Tsarnaev brothers are not on our databases of those wanted."

The independent Interfax agency quoted a source in the Chechen security service as saying that "according to our information, these people did not appear on the republic's territory." Interfax also quoted a senior security source in Moscow, presumably from the FSB secret service, as also denying any knowledge of the Tsarnaevs. "Since the brothers Tsarnaev lived outside Russia, our special services were unable to provide our foreign partners with any operationally relevant information," the source is quoted as saying.

Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia's security services and editor of Agentura.ru, which specializes in security issues, says a bureaucratic foul-up probably explains how Tsarnaev slipped away.

"There is a department inside the FSB that's responsible for monitoring social networks," he says.

Suspicious Internet activity

Both Tsarnaev brothers were active on the Internet, mostly on Russian-language websites such as VKontakte and through Russian-language postings on YouTube, which could have triggered the FSB's interest.

"It seems likely that this FSB department may have flagged some comments made by Tamerlan, and forwarded a request to the FBI for more information.... But, perhaps, that one FSB department noticed something, but did not provide greater details to the FBI, and also didn't inform other FSB departments. That's fairly typical," he adds.

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