Suspect in Boston bombing talked jihad in Russia

KIZLYAR, Russia — It’s not every day that a well-dressed American shows up in this town, where shaggy cows meander over deeply rutted roads, so people remember Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Among the things that made the young visitor stand out, two acquaintances recalled Thursday, was his avid interest in waging jihad.

‘‘He already had jihad views when he came. I think because he was Chechen, he was rooting for his homeland,’’ said Zaur M. Zakaryayev, 29, a member of a Salafi advocacy organization, the Union of the Just. ‘‘When he got here he was surprised at the conditions. I think he expected to find a full-fledged war, that one people was fighting with another.’’

These new accounts out of Kizlyar, where Tsarnaev spent time with a cousin who is a prominent Salafi Islamist leader, have begun to flesh out a picture of what he did during his six months in Russia.


Agents from the Federal Security Service, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, on Sunday interrogated Tsarnaev’s cousin, who is currently in police custody, asking whether he had impressed the young man with ‘‘extremist’’ views, his lawyer said.

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The cousin, Magomed Kartashov, told them it was the other way around. In interviews, several young men here agreed, saying that Kartashov had spent hours attempting to stop Tsarnaev from ‘‘going to the forest,’’ or joining one of the militant cells scattered throughout the volatile region, locked in low-level guerrilla warfare with police.

“Magomed explained to him at length that violent methods are not right,’’ Zakaryayev said.

Tsarnaev’s friends in Kizlyar may be responsible for a crucial change in his thinking. When he left, he was no longer focused on the local grievances that fueled the fighting against the police — but instead broader issues in the Islamic world, including the effect of US and Russian policy in the Mideast.

Rasim B. Ibadamov, 30, said by that summer Tsarnaev was taking steps that suggested he had let go of the idea of joining the underground — for instance, applying to renew his Russian passport.


When Tsarnaev arrived in Kizlyar to consult with Kartashov, they all noticed: ‘‘His pants, his scarf, his glasses, everything in aggregate set him apart from the mass,’’ Ibadamov said.

He was partial to the Internet sermons of the cleric Anwar al-Alwaki, who called for jihad against the United States and was killed in a drone strike in 2011. After spending a week in Kizlyar in conference with his cousin, however, he seemed to have new goals.

Zakaryayev said he had run into Tsarnaev repeatedly at a Salafi mosque in Makhachkala and was increasingly sure he would not join an insurgent group. ‘‘He could have gone if he wanted,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s not hard to do it, because every day there is a special operation, and every day people are leaving.’’

When the identity of the suspected Boston Marathon bomber was made public, his associates in Kizlyar had various reactions. Zakaryayev recalled wondering whether he had slid back into his old reverence for Alwaki. ‘‘I thought, he had those views, maybe he did it,’’ he said. But Ibadamov is like an overwhelming number of young people in Dagestan, where trust in law enforcement is close to zero; he believes Tsarnaev was framed.