Boston, AP—Lawmakers are asking tough questions about how the government tracked suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev when he traveled to Russia last year, renewing criticism from after the September 11 attacks that failure to share intelligence may have contributed to last week’s deadly assault.
Following a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill with the FBI and other law enforcement officials on Tuesday, Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it does not appear yet that anyone “dropped the ball.” But he said he was asking all the federal agencies for more information about who knew what about the suspect.
“There still seem to be serious problems with sharing information, including critical investigative information … not only among agencies but also within the same agency in one case,” said committee member Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Lawmakers intensified their scrutiny as funerals were held Tuesday for an eight-year-old boy killed in the bombings and a campus police officer who authorities said was shot by Tsarnaev and his younger brother days later. While family said that the elder Tsarnaev had been influenced by a Muslim convert to follow a strict type of Islam, 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev remained hospitalized after days of questioning over his role in the attacks. Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in a shootout with police last week.
Conflicting stories appeared to emerge about which agencies knew about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s six-month trip to Russia last year and how they handled it. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Senate Judiciary Committee on immigration legislation that her agency knew about Tsarnaev’s journey to his homeland.
But Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said the FBI “told me they had no knowledge of him leaving or coming back.”
Information-sharing failures between agencies prompted an overhaul of the US intelligence system after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Meanwhile, evidence mounted that Tsarnaev had embraced a radical, anti-American strain of Islam. Family members blamed the influence of a Muslim convert, known only to the family as Misha, for steering him toward a strict type of Islam.
“Somehow, he just took his brain,” said Tamerlan’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni of Montgomery Village, Md., who recalled conversations with Tamerlan’s worried father about Misha’s influence.
Authorities do not believe Tsarnaev or his brother had links to terror groups. However, two US officials said that Tsarnaev frequently looked at extremist websites, including Inspire magazine, an English-language online publication produced by Al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate. The magazine has endorsed lone-wolf terror attacks.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.
A memorial service was scheduled Wednesday for Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 26, who authorities said was shot to death by the Tsarnaev brothers three days after the bombings. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to speak.
Funerals were held Tuesday for Collier and eight-year-old Martin Richard. Martin, a schoolboy from Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, the youngest of those killed by blasts near the marathon finish line, was laid to rest after a family-only funeral mass.
“The outpouring of love and support over the last week has been tremendous,” the family said in a statement. “This has been the most difficult week of our lives.”
The Richard family said they would hold a public memorial service for Martin in the coming weeks.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s condition was upgraded from serious to fair Tuesday as investigators continued building their case against him.
He could face the death penalty after being charged Monday with joining forces with his brother in setting off shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bombs. Three people were killed and over 260 injured. About 50 are still hospitalized.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured hiding in a tarp-covered boat in a suburban Boston backyard on Friday.
In Washington, Senate Intelligence Committee member Richard Burr, R-NC, said after his panel was briefed by federal law enforcement officials that there is “no question” that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was “the dominant force” behind the attacks, and that the brothers had apparently been radicalized by material on the Internet rather than by contact with militant groups overseas.
The brothers’ parents are from Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim province in Russia’s Caucasus, where Islamic militants have waged an insurgency against Russia.
Family members reached in the US and abroad by the Associated Press said Tamerlan was influenced by a Muslim convert known only as Misha.
After befriending Misha, Tamerlan gave up boxing, stopped studying music and began opposing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to family members, who said he turned to websites and literature claiming that the CIA was behind 9/11.
“You could always hear his younger brother and sisters say, ‘Tamerlan said this,’ and ‘Tamerlan said that.’ Dzhokhar loved him. He would do whatever Tamerlan would say,” recalled Elmirza Khozhugov, the ex-husband of Tamerlan’s sister. He spoke by telephone from his home in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The brothers, who came to the US from Russia a decade ago, were raised in a home that followed Sunni Islam, the religion’s largest sect, but were not regulars at the mosque and rarely discussed religion, Khozhugov said.
Then, in 2008 or 2009, Tamerlan met Misha, a heavyset bald man with a reddish beard. Khozhugov did not know where they met, but believed they attended a Boston-area mosque together.
Napolitano said Tuesday that her agency knew of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s trip to Russia. She said that even though the suspect’s name was misspelled on a travel document, redundancies in the system allowed his departure to be captured by US authorities in January 2012.
Meanwhile, a US Embassy official said US investigators traveled to southern Russia to speak to the brothers’ parents, hoping to learn more about their motives.