Boston: Leaks and Unanswered Questions

For reasons best known to themselves, the Russian security services are currently leaking a fairly large amount of information about the dead Boston marathon bomber suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. A Novaya Gazeta report published on April 27 gives data provided by Dagestan’s Center for Combating Extremism which flatly contradicts an earlier interior ministry statement that Tsarnaev only spent 3 or 4 days in the republic in 2012. The new information says that in April 2012

 aгенты силовиков неоднократно «фиксировали» его вместе с неким Махмудом Мансуром Нидалем

an 18-year old youth of Palestinian-Kumyk ethnicity whom they suspected of links with the Dagestani Islamic insurgency and of taking part in a terrorist attack on a police checkpoint in May 2012 (Nidal was killed during a special operation in Makhachkala on May 19 last year.)

Writing in EDM, Valery Dzutsev notes the NG report’s description of the treatment given to the 21 year-old Russian-Canadian Muslim convert William Plotnikov, who was detained and tortured by Russian/Dagestani security services in the town of Izerbash south of Makhachkala in 2010, provided them with a list of contacts, including Tsarnaev, and was killed by Dagestani police in July 2012:

The Russian security services admitted they extensively interrogated Plotnikov, a suspected radical who was a citizen of Canada and possibly of Russia. The authorities interrogated Plotnikov in 2010 despite the fact that they had practically no incriminatory information on him and thus eventually released him. At the same time, they followed up on Tsarnaev, who allegedly met and had meetings with Mahmud Mansur Nidal, a known radical, but did not even bother to question Tsarnaev, who was even more susceptible to being interrogated by the Russians since he apparently was applying for a Russian passport and did not have US citizenship.

Dzutsev continues:

The Russian media displayed an uncharacteristic attitude toward the suspected terrorists. On April 28, one of the country’s major TV channels, NTV, featured an interview with the mother of suspects, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, in which she again insisted that her sons had been “framed.” The substantive part of the interview revealed little that was new, but what was interesting was the very fact that she was featured on a major Russian TV channel (http://www.ntv.ru/peredacha/CT/m23400/o163397/).

This is not normally the way relatives of suspected terrorists are treated in Russia. On the one hand, Russian media are threatened by the law against “propagating terrorism,” and featuring a suspected terrorist’s mother would count as such an act. In addition, the relatives of suspected terrorists are often treated with suspicion, based on an implicit expectation that they could carry out an attack to avenge the killing of their relative. Zubeidat and Anzor Tsarnaev do not seem to have experienced any of these usual attitudes in Russia. If the Russian security services had prior information about Tamerlan’s attempt to join the North Caucasian insurgency, then they surely cannot trust his parents. Yet the Russian security services appear to be courting the parents instead of persecuting them. Zubeidat and Anzor Tsarnaev reportedly left Dagestan for Moscow. While in Dagestan, the police protected Anzor Tsarnaev from excessive contacts with journalists. This level of protection for someone whose sons are accused of terrorist activities, not only abroad, but also domestically, is highly unusual in Russia.

Update: Minding Russia has a complete translation of Irina Gordienko’s Novaya Gazeta article, with more background and discussion.

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