Russian FSB describes its Tsarnaev letter to FBI

MOSCOW — Russian security officials told a congressional delegation this week that the Boston Marathon bombing could have been prevented if the United States had acted on information Moscow had provided, one of the congressmen said Friday.

The six congressmen met with senior Federal Security Service (FSB) and counterintelligence officials Thursday, Rep. William R. Keating (D-Mass.) said Friday, and saw a copy of a letter Russian officials said they sent to the FBI in March 2011 that provided details about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the bombing suspects.

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The letter from the FSB, read to the delegation by a translator, suggested that Tsarnaev was far more committed to jihad than had been earlier reported. He became radicalized in Boston in 2010, the FSB said, and wanted to join Palestinian fighters, an idea he gave up because the language gave him too much trouble.

Instead, as a native Russian speaker, his focus turned to Dagestan, the FSB letter said, a Muslim region in southern Russia troubled by violent conflict. His mother, whom the FSB also described as radicalized, came from Dagestan and his father from neighboring Chechnya.

Keating said the letter gave Tsarnaev’s date of birth, his cellphone number, information about his boxing career, weight and Golden Gloves matches. It talked about his wife and mother, giving the mother’s Skype number. The up-close look at Tsarnaev’s life raised questions, which went unanswered, about how the FSB had accumulated so much information about a family in Boston.

The letter asked U.S. officials to notify Russia if Tsarnaev headed to Dagestan. “They said there was no response,” Keating said. The same letter, they said, was also sent to the CIA.

“I was quite surprised, and I wasn’t alone,” Keating said. “They said they had identified him and they never got a reply. They said that repeatedly.”

FBI officials have said that they responded to the FSB and requested more information but never heard back.

After the April 15 bombing, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III visited Russia, which the officials said impressed them and helped improve relations.

Tsarnaev did spend six months in Dagestan last year, and Keating said he asked what Tsarnaev did there. The officials said they didn’t know he was there, though reports from Dagestan have suggested that local officials knew about him. “How could that get by you?” Keating said he asked. Tsarnaev arrived with a Kyrgyz passport, they said, which did not attract attention.

The congressional delegation — which included Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Paul Cook (R-Calif.), Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Steve King (R-Iowa) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) — came to Moscow to deepen cooperation over counterterrorism.

“We want to work together with the Russian people to defeat our common enemies,” King said after arriving.

They met with Sergei Beseda, a high-level FSB official, as well as a counterintelligence officer who specializes in the North Caucasus, legislators and policymakers.

 
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