Boston bomber's application for US citizenship raises new questions

Immigration officials say Tamerlan Tsarnaev's application was processed correctly, but new documents reveal they may have missed potential warning signs.

Lowell Sun and FBI/AP/File
This combination of file photos shows Tamerlan (l.) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, brothers who planted bombs at the finish line at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. The elder Tsarnaev, Tamerlan, swore his allegiance to the United States and disavowed terrorism in a citizenship application just months before the attacks, according to federal documents obtained by The Boston Globe.

Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev passed the US citizenship test just a few months before he helped carry out the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and injured over 260, according to heavily redacted Department of Homeland Security documents obtained by the Boston Globe.

The documents, released to the Globe under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that Mr. Tsarnaev, passed the test with only one incorrect answer, and that he also swore his allegiance to the United States and denied any links to terrorism.

Tsarnaev was killed in a firefight with law enforcement days after the April 15, 2013 bombings. He carried out the attacks, which killed three people and injured over 260, with his younger brother Dzhokhar. The younger Tsarnaev was arrested on April 19, and was sentenced to death last May.

The documents, while heavily redacted, have spurred further questions over whether immigration officials missed any potential warning signs during the application process. Tsarnaev began the process after a 178-day trip to his native Russia that federal investigators believe may have helped radicalize him, a trip that he disclosed to immigrations officials, according to the Globe. He also disclosed a 2009 arrest for assaulting a former girlfriend, and that he wanted to change his name to "Muaz," an early Islamic scholar – a move that Russian officials had warned was a sign of radicalization.

His application process was delayed in January 2013 because officials did not have court records from the 2009 case, the Globe reported. The Tsarnaev brothers came to America in 2003 with their parents, who were seeking asylum after fleeing war-torn Chechnya (contrary to some reports, the family were not refugees, and thus didn't go through America's intensive refugee screening process, which has been under added scrutiny following terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.).   

"If federal officials raised security concerns about [Tsarnaev] … they did not disclose them" in the documents, wrote the Globe’s Maria Sacchetti. Instead, the documents portray Tsarnaev as a man "struggling with unemployment and poverty while trying to cement [his] ties to the United States."

In a statement to the Globe, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said that Tsarnaev's application had been processed properly.

"While USCIS found no errors in the processing of Tamerlan Tsarnaev's [application] … we are always seeking to strengthen our very intensive screening processes," the statement said. "US Citizenship and Immigration Services' commitment to national security is shared inside and outside the Department of Homeland Security."

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