The CIA submitted the name of one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects for a terrorist watch list in fall 2011 after an inquiry about Tamerlan Tsarnaev from Russian authorities concerned about his possible ties to extremists, a U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
The FBI had received a nearly identical request from the Russian government six months earlier, prompting a review of Tsarnaev’s activities that turned up nothing improper, a federal law enforcement official said.
Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in a confrontation with police early Friday, hours after photos of him and his brother, Dhokhar Tsarnaev, were circulated as suspects in the Boston attacks. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now recovering from a neck wound, was charged Monday and faces a possible death sentence if convicted.
Tsarnaev’s inclusion on the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), a list of more than 500,000 names, is raising questions from lawmakers about why federal authorities did not continue to monitor Tamerlan Tsarnaev who, following the FBI inquiry, left for a six-month trip to Russia on Jan. 12, 2012. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate panel this week the watch system alerted authorities of his departure. By the time he returned, she said, the FBI investigation had been closed.
Reps. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Pete King, R-N.Y., have called on the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to provide more information.
The law enforcement official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the CIA was aware of the FBI review and referred the new request back to the FBI. The CIA may not conduct intelligence operations on U.S. soil.
The FBI again contacted its Russian counterparts, asking if they had additional information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Russian authorities, the official said, never responded.
In Boston, Dhokhar Tsarnaev has told federal investigators that the deadly attacks were launched last week without a rehearsal.
The federal law enforcement official said Dhokhar Tsarnaev said he and his brother did not test fire the pressure-cooker devices before planting them near the crowded finish line of the race, where three people were killed and 264 injured.
Earlier Wednesday, their father said he and his wife would travel to the United States from Dagestan on Thursday to assist with the investigation.
FBI agents traveled to the Russian republic to interview Anzor Tsarnaev and his wife, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, to try to determine how their sons became radicalized.
She took a taxi to the offices of the Russian security services, or FSB, in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, where she was interviewed by U.S. and Russian officials. But Anzor Tsarnaev was not questioned, telling officials he felt ill.
A lawyer for the family said, however, that the family had not finalized their plans.
Investigators are looking into whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who spent six months in Russia’s Caucasus in 2012, was influenced by the religious extremists who have waged an insurgency against Russian security services in the area for years. The brothers have roots in Dagestan and neighboring Chechnya, but neither spent much time in either place before the family moved to the United States a decade ago.
Shortly before he died, Tamerlan called his mother, The Wall Street Journal reported, telling her: “The police, they have started shooting at us; they are chasing us. Mama, I love you.” Then the phone went dead.
Dzhokhar, who has answered some questions of U.S. investigators regarding the April 15 bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, has said that he and his brother acted alone and without any help from anyone, foreign or domestic, according to a law enforcement official.
He has also said that the brothers were motivated by religious fervor and anger over U.S. involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The parents returned to Dagestan without their children several years ago. They have claimed that their sons are innocent of involvement in last week’s bombings and are being framed by police.
“It’s a big show, a spectacle. Americans love a show,” Zubeidat Tsarnaeva told The Daily Telegraph.
She also gave an exclusive interview to Britain’s Channel 4 News, calling the bombing a “a terrible thing.”
“But I know that my kids have nothing to do with this,” she said. “I know it. I am mother. I know my kids.”
The U.S. Embassy delegation made the trip on Tuesday “because the investigation is ongoing, it’s not over,” said an embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. He said the U.S. team is working with the FSB.
“This is a horrible tragedy for our country, but one positive development might be closer cooperation on this set of issues with the Russian government,” the embassy official said.
Anzor Tsarnaev is an ethnic Chechen born in Kyrgyzstan. Zubeidat Tsarnaeva is an ethnic Avar from Dagestan.
It was unclear exactly which officials were carrying out the interviews, but the AFP news agency quoted an embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, who said that the FBI is receiving cooperation from the Russian government in its investigation.
Heda Saratova, a prominent Chechen rights activist providing support to the distraught mother, said she first went in for questioning on Tuesday, returning late at night. Saratova said she had no details about the discussions, but that Zubeidat Tsarnaeva said they were “cordial.”
A Dagestan security source told AFP that the parents, asked about Tamerlan’s trip to Dagestan in 2012, replied that he did not make contact with radical Islamists.
Abdurashid Magomedov, Dagestan’s interior minister, has also denied that Tamerlan became a follower of radical Islam while in the republic, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.
USA Today reporters Doug Stanglin and Michael Winter, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.