The man that relatives blamed for radicalizing one of the two brothers accused of the Boston Marathon bombings has denied any link to the attack or to extremism, and says the FBI has cleared him.
Mikhail Allakhverdov, 39, an American of Armenian-Ukrainian descent, was exclusively interviewed by the New York Review of Books, which published extracts on its website Sunday night.
He confirmed that he was a convert to Islam and had known elder brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, but he denied any part in the bombings. “I wasn’t his teacher. If I had been his teacher, I would have made sure he never did anything like this,” Mr. Allakhverdov said.
Identified by the suspect brothers’ uncle as “Mischa,” Mr. Allakherdov was accused in some news reports of being an Islamic “Svengali” who had radicalized the the elder Mr. Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout with police hours after the brothers’ pictures were broadcast by the FBI as the lead suspects in the two bombings which killed three and injured 260, many of them maimed by the loss of lower limbs.
His younger brother, Djhokar, 19, is in custody at a federal prison hospital facing charges.
The two brothers are ethnic Chechens who grew up in the volatile muslim-majority Russian North Caucasus, site of a bloody insurgency by extremist groups some scholar say are linked to al Qaeda. They immigrated to the United States 11 years ago with their parents and two sisters.
Mr. Allakherdov said he had been “cooperating entirely” with FBI agents investigating he attack. “I gave them my computer and my phone and everything,” he said, according to the review, “I wanted to show I haven’t done anything. And they said they are about to return them to me.”
He added that agents had told him they were about to close his case. The FBI office in Boston declined requests for comment.
The news comes as the hunt intensifies for contacts the brothers might have had with extremists, either in the United States or when Tamerlan returned to North Caucasus for six months last year.
Several lawmakers with access to classified intelligence about the ongoing investigation told TV talk shows over the weekend that federal authorities believe there was likely at least one other person involved — someone who helped or trained the brothers to make the sophisticated remote controlled devices which detonated the simple, yet powerful bombs.
Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican, told “Fox News Sunday” that the “level of sophistication” of the two improvised bombs made from pressure cookers “and the way they handled these devices and the trade craft leads me to believe there was a trainer.”
- with additional reporting by Sean Lengell