Skip to main content

Keys to Boston attack could lie half a world away in restive region of Russia

By Nic Robertson. Nick Paton Walsh and Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 6:05 AM EDT, Thu April 25, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. and Russian authorities interview Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's parents
  • The two brothers are accused of staging deadly Boston Marathon bombings
  • The parents live in Dagestan, a part of Russia where Tamerlan visited
  • Tamerlan posted videos linked to jihadist militants after going to the region in 2012

Makhachkala, Russia (CNN) -- The building, No. 50, that members of the Tsarnaev family call home sits on a seemingly quiet street in Makhachkala. The capital of Dagestan, a semi-autonomous republic in southern Russia, borders the Caspian Sea on one side and on the other overlooks the Caucasus Mountains.

For a time in 2012, Tamerlan Tsarnaev stayed here with his parents. He shopped at stores in Makhachkala, prayed at a local mosque.

What authorities want to know is whether it was here that Tamerlan learned, or perhaps was inspired, to kill.

The 26-year-old can't give an answer: He was killed after a shootout with U.S. authorities in Watertown, Massachusetts -- 5,500 miles from Makhachkala -- early Friday.

Days earlier, authorities say, he and his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar -- who is in a Boston hospital -- blew up two bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people died and scores were wounded in that attack.

FBI agents spent Wednesday in the Dagestani capital talking with Tamerlan and Dzhokhar's parents, according to an official in U.S. President Barack Obama's administration. The U.S. investigators were joined by members of Russia's Federal Security Service, human rights activist Kheda Saratova said.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Boston Marathon bombings suspect, was photographed for a university graduate magazine story in April 2009. The photographer did not want to be named for this story. According to the published article, he hoped to be selected for the U.S. Olympic boxing team and become a naturalized American. Authorities say an overnight shootout with police left him dead on Friday, April 19. See all photography related to the Boston bombings. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Boston Marathon bombings suspect, was photographed for a university graduate magazine story in April 2009. The photographer did not want to be named for this story. According to the published article, he hoped to be selected for the U.S. Olympic boxing team and become a naturalized American. Authorities say an overnight shootout with police left him dead on Friday, April 19. See all photography related to the Boston bombings.
Suspect 1 was boxer, photo essay subject
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
Suspect 1 was boxer, photo essay subject Suspect 1 was boxer, photo essay subject
Boston suspects' dad coming to U.S.
Sources: Boston suspect in U.S. databases
Retracing bombing suspect's radical path
Suspects' mom: Their protector is God

That "conversation" ended Wednesday evening, the suspects' mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, told Saratova.

It's unclear what came of the parents' talk with U.S. and Russian authorities, though both parents had publicly insisted that their sons are innocent. But information has come out suggesting how Tamerlan Tsarnaev might have been influenced by his trip half a world from his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home.

While Dagestan may be picturesque in many respects, it's also been home to violence and civil unrest. That includes gun and bomb attacks targeting security services, including a suicide bombing at a police checkpoint that left 12 dead and dozens wounded while Tsarnaev was believed to be here.

After returning from his months-long visit to Russia, Tsarnaev created a YouTube channel that included two videos (since deleted) under a category labeled "Terrorists."

Analysis by CNN and the SITE Intelligence Group has uncovered a screen grab from one of those videos featuring members of Imarat Kavkaz, a potent militant Islamist group in the north Caucasus, which includes Chechnya and Dagestan.

Tsarnaev also appears to have posted and removed a video of a militant named Abu Dujan, a jihadist leader who was later killed by Russian troops.

Did Tsarnaev interact with Abu Dujan during his time in southern Russia? Authorities haven't publicly said anything on that point, either way.

Videos linked to his group show how to prepare homemade explosives from almost anywhere.

Askhabali Saurbekov, the police chief in the Dagestani town of Kizilyurt, said Abu Dujan met with foreigners before his death. This group included men, like Tsarnaev, who were of Chechen origin.

"They met to exchange their bandit experience," Saurbekov said.

CNN's Nic Robertson and Nick Paton Walsh reported from Makhachkala; Greg Botelho wrote this story from Atlanta.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Boston Marathon Bombings
Survivors of three earlier bombings describe their journeys forward — and offer poignant words for those just one year away from the day that changed their lives.
updated 2:15 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
"United, we will always persevere." That was the message Massachusetts shared on the anniversary of twin bombings that turned last year's Boston Marathon from a celebration into a day of horror.
updated 2:47 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
I'm running it to make a simple statement: Acts of cowardice will not stop me from exercising my rights as an athlete and a human.
updated 3:40 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Many of those whose lives were shattered are still struggling to put the pieces back together. Here are some of the victims, as well as larger funds, who continue to need your support.
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
As April 15 approaches, the fact that we tell time in circles brings us to remember the attack on the Boston Marathon one year ago.
updated 10:47 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
CNN's Bill Weir talks to Carlos Arredondo about helping those injured immediately after the Boston Marathon bombing.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
By running in response to the tragedy, we weren't attempting to negate the irreparable harm done to the people of Boston last year. We wanted to do something, anything, to try to process it.
updated 7:24 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
All of our assumptions have turned out to be wrong. Here are four things we've learned since then:
updated 4:17 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been frozen in the public mind by four images.
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
Adrianne Haslet-Davis' life as a dancer was shattered last year at the Boston Marathon bombings.
updated 7:40 AM EDT, Mon March 24, 2014
A man who lost both legs in the Boston Marathon attack is engaged to the woman he was waiting for at the finish line.
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Wed April 17, 2013
Mistaken identity in the hospital added to her family's grief.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed April 24, 2013
The slain MIT cop "was born to be a police officer."
updated 10:37 PM EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
The graduate student from China followed her passion to Boston.
updated 1:10 AM EDT, Wed April 17, 2013
Almost a year ago, 8-year-old Martin Richard wrote four simple words on a sign at school: No more hurting people.
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Wed July 17, 2013
Mery Daniel couldn't wait for Marathon. It was one of the things the aspiring doctor and Haitian immigrant loved most about living in Boston.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Thu May 2, 2013
After twin blasts shook Boston -- killing three and wounding more than 260 others -- investigators sprung into action looking for those responsible.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Sun April 28, 2013
The black Mercedes SUV sped down Spruce Street going about 70 mph, the driver struggling to maintain control. The vehicle had a busted headlight and flat tire.
Click through our galleries of the Boston Marathon bombing, from perspectives on the attack to the suspects, as well as the manhunt and celebrations in Boston after both suspects were found.
ADVERTISEMENT