BOSTON — Questions persisted Saturday about why federal intelligence agencies didn’t pay closer attention to warnings from Russia that one of the accused Boston Marathon bombers was a Muslin extremist.
Concern over the scrtunity of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, the bomber suspect killed in a police shootout, took on renewed interest after disclosure that Russian authorities also listed his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, as a religious zealot.
Mother and son were placed in a U.S. terror database in the fall of 2011 as a result of Russian intelligence warnings. Both moved to the Boston area from the Dagestan region of Russia a decade ago, but maintained ties to radical Islamic groups there, according to the warnings.
The mother and her husband returned to live in Russia last year but son Tamerlan and another son, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving accused marathon bomber, stayed in Boston. Dzhokhar, 19, became a naturalized U.S. citizen last September.
The FBI said it conducted an inquiry into Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s background, including interviewing him, and determined he was not a terrorist threat. The CIA kept he and his mother in their terror database but didn’t attach any particular importance to the listings.
The son was reunited with his mother in Dagestan in January of 2012, when he returned to Russia for six months, unbeknown to the FBI and CIA, though the Homeland Security Agency was aware of his travels. FBI and CIA officials have said misspellings of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s name by the airlines caused them to be unaware of his trip.
Upon his return to Boston in July of 2012, the son appeared more radicalized than when he left, according to acquaintances and investigators piecing together the marathon bombings and aftermath.
Republican Congressman Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tamerlan attended religious services at an extremist mosque in Chechnya during his stay in Russia. He said the mosque espoused doctrines inspired by the terrorist organization al Qaeda.
“Enough was not done in order to monitor the activities of Tamerlan Tsarnaev,” said Royce. “Especially given the fact that it wasn’t one heads-up we were given (by the Russians) but several.”
The mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, told ITN News, a British-based television network, that the FBI kept close watch on her son when she lived with him in Boston. She said she began practicing a “pure” form of Islam four years ago when living in the U.S.
“They were monitoring him and I know that because I used to talk to them,” she said. “They used to come to our house, like two, three times.”
The mother told ITN News that she “wanted to die” because of the accusations that her sons perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombings.
“What happened (in Boston) was a terrible thing,” she said. “But I know that my kids have nothing to do with this. I know it. I am mother. I know my kids.”
In another development, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons said that the younger and surviving Tsarnaev brother, Dzhokhar, is hospitalized in a small, single cell at the federal prison medical center 40 miles northwest of Boston. They said he’s receiving medical attention for his wounds but has no contact with the other 300 federal inmates there. The cell has a narrow window and a slot for food.
Dzhokhar was moved to the federal facility at the former Fort Devens military base in Ayre, Mass., overnight Thursday from Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, where he had been under treatment for head, throat and other wounds since his capture April 19. Family members of bombing victims at Beth Israel and hospital personnel told authorities they felt uncomfortable with Dzhokhar’s presence there.
Details for this story were provided by law enforcement officials and the Associated Press.