MOSCOW (AP) — The head of a U.S. congressional delegation said Sunday that its meetings in Russia showed that there was “nothing specific” that could have helped prevent the Boston Marathon bombings, but that the two countries need to work more closely on joint security threats.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who led the six-member delegation, described discussions with Russian Parliament members and security officials as productive. Some of the meetings, he said, were made possible by American actor Steven Seagal.
Mr. Seagal, who attended the news conference in the U.S. Embassy, is well connected in Russia. He met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, and last week he paid a visit to Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman who rules Chechnya, a province in southern Russia that has seen two brutal wars between federal troops and Chechen separatists since 1994.
Those wars spawned an Islamic insurgency that spread across the Caucasus region, including to neighboring Dagestan, now the center of the violence. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who is accused of carrying out the Boston bombings with his younger brother, spent six months in Dagestan last year. Investigators have been trying to determine whether he had contacts with the militants there.
Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said Russian security officials told the delegation they believed that Tsarnaev and his mother had been radicalized before moving to the United States in 2003.
“I suspect he was raised to do what he did,” Mr. King said.
His account of the meeting at the FSB, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, was disputed by Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat, who said he understood that the radicalization took place much later, when the family was living in Boston.
“Radical Islam is at our throat in the United States and is at the throat of the Russian people,” he said.
The congressman repeatedly thanked Mr. Seagal, who took credit for arranging the lawmakers’ meeting at the FSB, and said it helped avoid the experience of past foreign trips when all of the meetings had been arranged by the U.S. Embassy.
“You know what we got? We got the State Department controlling all the information that we heard,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. “You think that’s good for democracy? No way!”
The action movie star escorted the congressmen on a trip Saturday to the site of a terrorist attack in the Caucasus town of Beslan, where militants seized a school in 2004 and took more than 1,000 people hostage, most of them children. More than 330 hostages died, most of them when federal troops stormed the school.
Mr. Seagal had invited the delegation to visit Chechnya, but the trip was called off in part because U.S. House rules would have prevented the congressmen from flying on his private plane, Mr. Rohrabacher said.
The Kremlin has given Mr. Kadyrov lavish funding and political carte blanche to fight terrorism since he came to power in 2005. Activists accuse him and his feared security forces of staggering abuses, including torture, kidnappings and murder.