Allahpundit included a reference to this in our afternoon thread on the Tsarnaev case, but it’s worth breaking out into a full thread. Some in the media have expressed some bemusement about how two young immigrants brought up in the US for a decade could have been radicalized seemingly so quickly. Information that began coming out a couple of hours ago may explain at least the timing and the circumstances of that radicalization:
Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev traveled to Russia last year and returned to the U.S. six months later, government officials told The Associated Press. …
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they couldn’t talk publicly about an investigation in progress. Tsarnaev traveled from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, according to one of the officials.
The ethnic Chechen brothers lived in Dagestan, which neighbors the Chechnya region in southern Russia. They lived near Boston and had been in the U.S. for about a decade, one of their uncles said. There are no known ties at this point to Chechen extremist groups, one of the officials said.
The father had left the US in 2009, which could explain the visit in Russia in entirely innocent terms. On the other hand, by last year Tamerlan apparently had a wife and a three-year-old child, according to information provided to CBS by his uncle:
That makes a six-month absence look … intriguing. Several years prior to that, Tamerlan had become a devout Muslim, which surprised the uncle who called him a “loser” on television earlier today:
An uncle of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects said Tamerlan Tsarnaev had become a devout Muslim about seven or eight years ago.
“When I was speaking to the older one, he started all this religious talk, ‘Insh’allah’ and all that, and I asked him, ‘Where is all that coming from?'” said Ruslan Tsarni, 42, a corporate lawyer and executive.
The six-month visit to Russia at least suggests that he was in proximity to some extremist groups for quite a while, had he chosen to pursue contact with such groups. After taking a look earlier at Tsarnaev’s YouTube channel, it’s clear that Tamerlan at least admired those kinds of groups.
NBC is also looking at the Chechen angle, and the potential for connections between Tsarnaev and Islamic Jihad Union in Dagestan and Chechnya:
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Fox is also reporting that, not surprisingly, they are taking a very close look at the electronic communications from both brothers to see what kind of connections they did have. The feds are also pointing out that the skill of making pressure-cooker bombs takes some time to acquire — and a few months out of the US might have been time spent on such pursuits:
Multiple sources confirmed Tamerlan went to Russia for a prolonged period last year. It’s unclear what he did there, but Fox News is told that the bombmaker who made the Boston devices would need practice to build a device with a viable detonator.
A senior Capitol Hill source, who has been briefed by the National Counterterrorism Center on the manhunt, told Fox News the FBI is tracking passports, airline tickets and a lot of other data.
Fox News is also told that all electronic traffic associated with the brothers is now being “combed,” including the YouTube sites attributed to the suspects which included radical Islamist videos and propaganda.
Investigators are working to verify whether the sites and postings associated with the brothers were in fact theirs. Fox News was told “nothing is being taken for granted” in terms of authenticity.
As I said, it could all have been an innocent visit with family, but it bears investigation.
From CBS' Bob Orr: FBI interviewed Tamarlan Tsarnaev 2 yrs ago abt extremist ties, found nothing & closed file. More on CBS Evening News
— Major Garrett (@MajorCBS) April 19, 2013
This would be before Tamerlan went to Russia, so I wonder what would have put him on the FBI’s radar.
Update: This may answer that question, but it opens up others:
FBI interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev 2 yrs ago at request of foreign country; didn't uncover anything major. Closed file. @CBSNews
— Mosheh Oinounou (@Mosheh) April 19, 2013
Well, which foreign country — and why? Could it have been Russia?
Update: Earlier, Tsarnaev’s mother insisted that the FBI knew what her son was up to. This is apparently what she meant — and it took an interview with Russia Today to job the FBI’s memory:
Although the FBI initially denied contacting Tsarnaev, the brothers’ mother said they had in an interview with Russia Today.
Zubeidat Tsarnaeva said her son got involved in “religious politics” about five years ago, and never told her he was involved in “jihad.”
She insisted the FBI “knew what he was doing on Skype” and that they counseled him “every step of the way.”
Tsarnaeva, who is a U.S. citizen currently in Russia, told Russia Today the FBI had called her with concerns about her elder son, although she did not specify when exactly she was contacted.
“They used to come [to our] home, they used to talk to me … they were telling me that he was really an extremist leader and that they were afraid of him,” Tsarnaeva said. “They told me whatever information he is getting, he gets from these extremist sites… they were controlling him, they were controlling his every step…and now they say that this is a terrorist act!”
Tamerlan was into “religious politics” for five years? Again, it makes that trip to Russia look even more interesting.
Update: From commenter Angus McC:
For all the bluster I’ve seen on this site in recent years aimed at Russia, Russia has been fighting Islamic terrorism longer than we have. The could be our allies if we can drop the silly nostalgia for the Cold War days. Plus, the Russians are ruthless as hell, which makes for a doubly good ally.
I’d bet a small fortune that our FBI interviewed Tsarnaev on Russia’s request.
There are more issues with Russia than “silly nostalgia for the Cold War days,” and there is at least an argument that the Russian insistence on holding Chechnya helped foster the Islamist rebellion after the more secular initial rebellion failed. But Angus is right that Russia has been fighting the Islamists for a long time, which may be why the FBI took their request seriously enough to interview Tsarnaev, if the request actually came from Russia.