The mother of the two Boston bombing suspects, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, has become a focus of interest after it emerged that her name had been added to a key terrorist watchlist in 2011 and fresh materials, including wiretaps, handed over to the US by the Russians showed her "vaguely discussing" jihad with her elder son two years ago.
Ms. Tsarnaeva, a naturalized US citizen who moved back to Russia a few years ago, has best been known until now as the most passionate defender of her two sons, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, up to the point of insisting that they were "framed" because they were Muslims. Now investigators may want to look into what role she may have played, if any, in the radicalization process that may have led her two sons to carry out the Boston Marathon bombing almost two weeks ago.
Tsarnaeva was reportedly added to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) database in 2011 at the request of US intelligence agencies. That list, which held about 750,000 names at the time, is used to compile the consolidated Terrorist Watchlist used as the main reference tool by airlines and law enforcement agencies. It is believed her name, and that of her son Tamerlan, were appended to the list after the Russian FSB security service appealed for more information about the pair to the FBI and the CIA and warned of their growing radicalization.
In recent days the Russians have also turned over wiretaps of conversations between Tsarnaeva, who was by that time back living in her native Dagestan, and her son Tamerlan in Boston. In one they reportedly discuss "jihad" in a general way. In another, Tsarnaeva is recorded talking with someone who is under FBI investigation in an unrelated case.
In his annual town hall meeting with the Russian public last Thursday, President Vladimir Putin called for stepped up security cooperation between the US and Russia in the wake of the Boston tragedy. He downplayed any links between Russia and the Boston bombers, and added "to our great regret" Russian security forces lacked any "operative information" that they might have shared with US law enforcement in the run up to the attack.
Tsarnaeva is an ethnic Avar, one of the largest groups in Russia's multi-national, but solidly Muslim, mountain republic of Dagestan which abuts the Caspian Sea. Dagestan has been wracked for over a decade by a growing Islamist insurgency that has made parts of the republic a no-go zone even for law enforcement.
Tsarnaeva's ex-husband, Anzor, is a Chechen and, judging by their social media postings, their two sons appear to have identified closely with the long trail of suffering that comprises much of Chechen history.
Both live today in Makhachkala, the Caspian port city that is Dagestan's capital. Anzor had earlier said that he wanted to return to the US, to attend his son Tamerlan's funeral, talk to Dzhokhar, and "find out the truth" about what happened to them. However, following an impassioned news conference Thursday, Tsarnaeva told journalists that her former husband was being transported to a hospital in Moscow to be treated for "nerves, head, stomach, and elevated blood pressure."
Tsarnaeva, dressed in black and wearing a hijab, told journalists last Thursday that she's certain her two sons were "set up" and were innocent of any wrongdoing. She added that she was sorry the family ever left Dagestan in 2002 to move to the US. If they hadn't gone, "my kids would be with us, and we would be, like, fine," she said, speaking excellent English. "So, yes, I would prefer not to live in America now! Why did I even go there? Why? I thought America is going to, like, protect us, our kids, it’s going to be safe."
According to news reports, there is an outstanding arrest warrant in the US for Tsarnaeva, over her failure to appear in court last October to answer charges of shoplifting in a Massachusetts clothing store.
She and her former husband met with a visiting team of FBI investigators in the Makhachkala FSB headquarters last week. If she chooses not to return to the US, there is probably nothing authorities can do to compel her, even if more serious allegations against her appear.
The US and Russia do not have a bilateral extradition treaty, despite repeated requests by Moscow to negotiate one. And the Russian constitution forbids the extradition of Russian citizens – Tsarnaeva reportedly did not renounce her Russian citizenship when she was naturalized in the US – a stipulation the Russians frequently invoke when Western law enforcement agencies ask Moscow to hand over people on their wanted lists.
Someone claiming to be Tsarnaeva opened a Twitter account Saturday, @Tsarnaeva, and posted a picture of a purported Tsarnaev aunt, Patimat Suleimanova, asking supporters to send donations to a numbered account in Russia's state-owned Sberbank to "get a good lawyer" for Dzhokhar. The account has since gained nearly 500 followers, and a tweet by @Tsarnaeva on Sunday morning claimed that $2,000 had already been raised.