Russian authorities provided the FBI with warnings about terrorist ties of Tamerlan Tsarnaev on at least two occasions, first in 2011 and later in November 2012, after the older of the two brothers accused of the Boston Marathon bombings returned to the United States from seven months in the Russian Caucasus region. What's more, the intelligence was passed from Moscow to Washington via long-established official channels, first activated in the immediate aftermath of the original 9/11 attacks almost 12 years ago. According to a New York Times account on Tuesday, "Soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Moscow and Washington created a special counterterrorism working group to help improve cooperation." James W. McJunkin, a former leading FBI counterterrorism official, said the FBI and their Russian counterparts conducted a lengthy investigation several years ago into funding of terrorist networks in the Caucasus region by American-based Chechen and Russian nationals, mostly living in the Northeast of the United States. The Russian authorities provided names, phone numbers, and email addresses of the U.S.-based funders and provided the FBI with a much deeper understanding of how the Caucasus-based radical Islamist networks operated.
This week the FBI acknowledged the Russian leads, explaining in an official statement that the Russian government had flagged the elder Tsarnaev as a possible risk, "based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country's region to join unspecified underground groups." According to Russian news reports, the Russian domestic security service provided the FBI with a "case file" on Tamerlan Tsarnaev in Nov. 2012, indicating he had had at least six meetings with a leading jihadist in Dagestan, where he was visiting his parents.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Col.) on Monday joined House members, including Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, in demanding answers from the FBI. Udall, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said, "There are many questions I want answered, such as how and when the suspects became radicalized, details of the F.B.I.'s initial investigation into Tamerlan Tsarnaev's activities, the nature of the terrorist threat in southern Russia, and more information on our counterterrorism cooperation with Moscow."
The FBI was scheduled to deliver a closed-door briefing to the Senate intelligence committee sometime on Tuesday, and to deliver a briefing to all House members at 5 PM Tuesday afternoon.
A criminal complaint was filed against Dzokhar Tsarnaev on April 21, based on an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Daniel R. Genck, who provided a detailed timeline of the events of April 15-19.
Dzokhar Tsarnaev was also interviewed by Federal agents in his hospital room, and a bedside preliminary hearing took place on Monday, April 22, during which time the presiding magistrate read him his Miranda rights 72 hours after he was arrested and taken into custody. The magistrate, Marianne B. Bowler, in the presence of Tsarnaev's court-appointed attorneys, ruled that he was competent to proceed to trial. Tsarnaev has been charged with use of a "weapon of mass destruction," a charge that has raised serious legal questions, given that the bomb was a crude device made of a pressure cooker, conventional explosives, and ball bearings and nails.
A profile published today in the Christian Science Monitor pointed to some specific possible international connections to the elder Tsarnaev, despite the fact that the younger brother, Dzokhar, has been telling interrogators that the plot was hatched by his brother alone, and he was only made aware of the bomb plot a week before the Boston Marathon. According to the CSM, Dagestan has become a hotbed of jihadist activity in the North Caucasus region, since the successful Russian crackdown on the long-running insurgency in Chechnya. Dagestan is the base of operations of Dokka Umarov, who has been part of the Chechen insurgency since the 1990s, and who is now referred to as the "Osama Bin Laden of Russia." Over the years, Umarov has gone from Chechen separatist to radical jihadist with close ties to Al Qaeda. One bridge between Al Qaeda and the Caucusus apparatus is the Islamic Jihad Union, a group listed by the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The group is based in Waziristan in western Pakistan near the Afghan border, but has operations all across Central Asia into the Caucasus.