Russians missed chance at Tsarnaev

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Russian intelligence officials told U.S. lawmakers in Moscow that the Boston Marathon attack might have been averted if American authorities had let them know about last year’s visit by one of the Chechen-American brothers blamed for the attack.

“It’s possible they would have killed him” while he was in Russia, said Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat, a member of the visiting delegation.

Mr. Cohen was referring to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, the elder of two brothers accused of carrying out the April 15 bombing, which killed three people and wounded 260.

The officials, led by Sergei Beseda, deputy head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the FSB, were not explicit, Mr. Cohen said.

“They told us if U.S. agencies had worked more closely with them maybe, just maybe, the bombing might not have happened,” he said.

The older brother, a green card holder who apparently became a follower of violent Islamic extremism, was killed in the Boston area in a shootout with police four days after the bombing. His 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was captured the following day, and faces murder and bombing charges.

Last year, Tamerlan left the United States in January and spent six months in Dagestan, a violence-torn, Muslim-majority Russian republic in the brothers’ native North Caucasus. U.S. investigators and their Russian counterparts have been trying to retrace his steps there.

Mr. Cohen said the FSB officials briefed the congressional delegation over the weekend, the first time U.S. lawmakers had been briefed by representatives of the secretive agency. The FSB is the successor to the KGB.

Six lawmakers who went to Moscow were Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Steve King of Iowa, and Paul Cook and Dana Rohrabacher of California; Rep. William R. Keating, Massachusetts Democrat; and Mr. Cohen. They were shown a copy of Russia’s March 2011 warning to the CIA and the FBI.

The FSB told the U.S. agencies that Tamerlan and his mother appeared to have become radicalized and seemed interested in taking part in the Islamic insurgency in the North Caucasus, an administrative and ethnic patchwork of Muslim-majority republics.

Mr. Cohen said one FSB official suggested the attack might have been averted “if [the U.S. government] had given them more information” after that warning.

“I think he was talking about the fact that the FBI didn’t let them know” that Tamerlan had traveled seven months later to Dagestan, Mr. Cohen said.

The FBI has said it interviewed Tamerlan and other relatives, and reviewed his email and Internet activities, but found no evidence of any violent extremist activity or connections. After unsuccessfully seeking more information from the Russians, the bureau closed his file in June 2011.

Although Tamerlan’s name was still flagged on a U.S. travel watch list, the FBI took no action when he left the country last year because his file was closed, U.S. officials have said.

Russian officials have said they were not independently aware of Tamerlan’s arrival in June because he entered on a passport issued by the independent former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, rather than his Russian passport.

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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