May 2, 2013

Boston bombing investigation leads to heart of Russia's war on terror

By Ilya Arkhipov and Henry Meyer / Bloomberg News

(Continued from page 1)

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Police and forensic experts examine the site of an explosion in downtown Makhachkala, Dagestan on Wednesday. Russian police say a bomb exploded in a busy shopping area in the capital of the restive republic of Dagestan, killing at least two people. Dagestan is plagued by Islamic insurgents who frequently mount small attacks on police.

The Associated Press

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One extremist Tsarnaev may have had contact with was William Plotnikov, a Russian-born Canadian who was killed during a raid on a rebel stronghold in the forests of Dagestan last year, according to Magomed Baachilov, head of the region's Security Council. Both men were boxers and Plotnikov was from Toronto, where another of Tsarnaev's aunts lives.

Foreign fighters often make their way to Dagestan, Baachilov said by phone April 29. "We kill many people from North Africa and the Middle East."

Plotnikov was questioned by Russian officials about his Islamic beliefs in 2010 and identified Tsarnaev as a fellow member of an Islamic youth network, Novaya Gazeta reported April 27, citing an unidentified official in the Dagestani Interior Ministry's Center for Combating Extremism.

Tsarnaev left Dagestan to return to the U.S. on July 16, two days after Plotnikov was killed, according to the Moscow- based newspaper, which is partly owned by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

He had been under surveillance by Russian operatives since the previous April, after making contact with a Dagestani- Palestinian jihadist recruiter named Nidal Mahmoud Mansour, Novaya Gazeta said. Mansour was killed by Russian forces in a raid on a home in Makhachkala in May, according to the Interior Ministry.

Tsarnaev died and his brother Dzhokhar, 19, was wounded in a shootout with police four days after the Boston attack, which killed three people and injured more than 260. The younger Tsarnaev is being held at a federal facility, charged with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.

"The big unknown" is what Tsarnaev did during his trip to Russia, said Rogers, the House Intelligence Committee chief.

After a tip-off by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet KGB, the FBI conducted a review of Tsarnaev's activities, including interviews with family members and examinations of their communications and Internet usage, according to two U.S. law-enforcement officials who asked not to be named because the investigation is continuing.

After the FBI found nothing incriminating, the bureau asked Russia three times for any additional information that may be helpful and got no response, Rogers said.

Kurbanov, who previously coordinated the Dagestani government's work with law enforcement, said cooperation between Russian and U.S. agencies hasn't been "good enough" and the Americans should have been more attentive to Russian warnings. Rep. Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, faulted a lack of communication between U.S. agencies for the FBI's failure to scrutinize Tsarnaev after his trip to Dagestan.

Putin, a former KGB officer, defended the FSB's handling of the case, saying April 25 that the agency was unable to provide "information that would have operational significance" because Tsarnaev didn't live in Russia.

Still, President Barack Obama thanked Putin for Russia's cooperation in the probe during a phone conversation April 29, according to a White House statement.

In reality, Rogers said, the FSB has been withholding what it knows from its U.S. counterparts.

"I think they have information that would be incredibly helpful that they haven't provided yet," Rogers said. "You have to remember the FSB is a hostile service to the FBI and the CIA. There's a cultural problem there between where the Russians are and our folks."

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