Family members: Older Tsarnaev brother was influenced by "mysterious radical"

“Mysterious radical” is from the AP’s headline but it’s unclear just how radical he was. They’re implying that the mystery man, a Muslim convert named “Misha,” might have nudged Tamerlan Tsarnaev towards terrorism but the piece never gets around to alleging that specifically. There are a lot of allegations about Misha urging Tamerlan to follow Islam more strictly (“Misha said it’s not really good to create music”), but whether there was any last fateful suggestion about showing the kuffar who’s boss by bombing something is unclear. Misha wasn’t the only influence on him either: Read down in the piece and you’ll find that Tamerlan was eager to read “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and was also a fan of Alex Jones and his Infowars site, which has inexplicably become near-daily link bait on Drudge. That’s odd in a sense because, as Dave Weigel says, the Infowars version of the war on terror is that it’s essentially all a big CIA op, not a death struggle with the mujahedeen. I wonder if Tamerlan enjoyed the Infowars piece last month arguing that Obama’s support for the Syrian rebels makes him the de facto leader of Al Qaeda now. He must have missed it, or else the motive for the bombing becomes … really murky.

This piece isn’t the first mention of “Misha,” either. Ruslan Tsarni, the Tsarnaevs’ uncle who famously called them “losers” on TV last week, told the “Today” show on Friday that he’d heard from a family acquaintance that “there is someone who brainwashed [Tamerlan], some new convert to Islam. I would like to stress (the acquaintance was) of Armenian descent.’’ Presumably the acquaintance who told him that is Khozhugov, Tamerlan’s former brother-in-law and the AP’s main source for this story:

Then, in 2008 or 2009, Tamerlan met Misha, a slightly older, heavyset bald man with a long reddish beard. Khozhugov didn’t know where they’d met but believed they attended a Boston-area mosque together. Misha was an Armenian native and a convert to Islam and quickly began influencing his new friend, family members said…

“Misha was telling him what is Islam, what is good in Islam, what is bad in Islam,” said Khozhugov, who said he was present for the conversation. “This is the best religion and that’s it. Mohammed said this and Mohammed said that.”…

“It was late, like midnight,” Khozhugov said. “His father comes in and says, ‘Why is Misha here so late and still in our house?’ He asked it politely. Tamerlan was so much into the conversation he didn’t listen.”…

Anzor became so concerned that he called his brother, worried about Misha’s effects.

“I heard about nobody else but this convert,” Tsarni said. “The seed for changing his views was planted right there in Cambridge.”

It’s not clear if the feds have spoken to “Misha” yet, but in their defense, in a big city like Boston it must be hard to find a, er, bald, heavy-set, red-bearded Muslim from Armenia. Legally, unless “Misha” somehow helped the brothers with their logistics in bombing the marathon, it’d be hard to convict him of anything even if he was advocating outright for terrorism. The First Amendment exception for incitements to violence requires not only intent to incite but that the violence appear imminent. If Misha told them to bomb the marathon the night before they did it, that’s one thing; if he told them to do it a year ago, that’s something else. Could be that he didn’t tell them anything like that at all. But given Awlaki’s career path and the influence he had over his disciples, obviously if you’re the feds you’re interested in knowing more about “Misha,” who he’s talking to, and what he said to the Tsarnaevs — or what they said to him — before the big day.

But maybe this is all only tangentially relevant. According to the timeline in the AP piece, Tamerlan first started chatting with Misha circa 2008 or 2009; it’s not clear if they were even in contact recently. If those chats did somehow set him on the path to last Monday, it’s a long path. and after a preliminary investigation the feds have yet to find anything on the Tsarnaevs’ phones or computers pointing to an accomplice. Exit quotation from a neighbor about Tamerlan: “He had nothing against the American people. He had something against the American government.” So he bombed a marathon?