Friday, May 3, 2013

Dead marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev had ties to two slain jihadis

William Plotnikov, right, is said to have had contact with the
accused, and now dead, bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
(Boston Herald) A notorious Canadian jihadi gave Russian authorities Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s name under interrogation, an official told the Herald today, for the first time confirming a crucial link between a slain militant and the dead Marathon bombing mastermind.

U.S. Rep William Keating (D-Bourne), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, was briefed by his staff on the link between Tsarnaev and William Plotnikov, after his team traveled to Russia to meet with nongovernmental sources this week.

“That’s when the Russian government started looking at Tamerlan and he showed up on a jihadist web site,” Keating said. “That’s when they contacted the U.S.” The interrogation prompted Russian authorities to ask the FBI to investigate Tsarnaev in 2011.

Keating said Tamerlan also had contact with another suspected extremist, Mansur Mukhamed Nidal. Both Nidal and Plotnikov were killed in police raids last summer, and Tsarnaev fled back to the United States shortly thereafter, leaving behind the new Russian passport that apparently was a reason for his trip.

Plotnikov, 23, was an ethnic Russian who lived in Toronto, converted to Islam in 2009, joined the insurgency and made jihadist videos, officials said. After he vanished in Russia, Plotnikov’s family had contacted Russian officials asking for help in locating him, Keating said.

When Russian authorities did, they grilled him until he named other extremists, one of whom he identified as Tsarnaev, Keating said, and the Russians then asked the U.S. to probe Tsarnaev.

“They were trying to get information themselves,” Keating said. “It wasn’t simply a warning to the U.S. They wanted information.”

The developments raise more questions about exactly what information the Russian government initially shared with FBI officials. Despite being told that Tsarnaev “was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer” who planned to travel to Russia and join underground groups, the FBI has said it found no evidence of terrorism activity, and that it didn’t receive any more specific information from Russia despite requests.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was added to a terror watch list, both by the FBI and later in 2011 by the CIA, who received the same information from Russia. But he was still allowed to travel in January 2012 to Chechnya and Dagestan, where he stayed with his parents for six months before abruptly leaving that July.

Keating noted that there is nothing to suggest that Tsarnaev had joined the “violent insurgency” to which the two men belonged, and he said it’s still unclear if Tamerlan had learned any specific skills during his trip, including bomb-making.

But the information stands in contrast to claims by Tsarnaev’s brother, Dzhokhar, who has told investigators the two self-radicalized before allegedly carrying out the deadly Patriots Day bombings that left three dead and more than 260 injured.

“Tamerlan at least had contact with the violent insurgency,” Keating said, adding of his radicalization: “That did not occur in a vacuum.”