The FBI's big miss: Boston bombing fugitive shot dead was on radar two years ago

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Two years ago, the FBI received a tip from a foreign government that Boston bombings suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a radicalised Islamicist. The bureau investigated, and found no evidence to support the claim. Last Monday, it found out - too late - that it was all too lethally true

Major questions about US security and intelligence services were raised last night after it was revealed that the elder of the two apparent Boston bombers had been investigated as a possible Islamist terrorist two years ago, but was not deemed worthy of further attention.

The FBI has said that in 2011, at the request of a foreign government it did not name, it interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed on Thursday night after he and his brother hijacked a car in an attempt to break out of the military and police cordon around parts of Boston. A bureau statement said the request "was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country's region to join unspecified underground groups". It is believed that the request was made by Russia.

The statement added that its interviews with Tsarnaev and his family, along with checks of travel records, internet activity and personal associations, "did not find any terrorism activity" at the time. Representative Michael McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said: "It's new information to me and it's very disturbing that he's on the FBI radar."

Last night, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, mother of the brothers, told Russia Today that the family was subject to "constant surveillance... over the years". She was quoted as saying: "They used to come to our home, they used to talk to me... they were telling me that he [Tamerlan] was really an extremist leader and that they were afraid of him."

National security and law enforcement authorities said they had not turned up any evidence that the Tsarnaevs had contacts with al-Qa'ida or other militants overseas. They were now leaning toward the theory that the bombings, in which three people died, were motivated by Islamist extremism, although that remained unproven.

Tamerlan, 26, and his brother, Dzhokhar, 19, may be still called "suspects", but US authorities are certain it was they who planted the bombs on Monday. Dzhokhar is in hospital after being captured on Friday evening as he hid in a tarpaulin-covered boat stored in a suburban backyard.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said last night Dzhokhar was in a “serious but stable” condition, although unable to speak. He gave an impromptu interview outside Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, telling reporters: “I, and I think all of the law enforcement professionals, are hoping for a host of reasons that the suspect survives because we have a million questions and those questions need to be answered.”

Tamerlan had, according to several relatives, become a far more devout Muslim in recent years, praying five times a day and criticising the US from a religious point of view. The YouTube channel "Tamerlan Tsarnaev" has nearly 700 subscribers, and shows Islamist videos. One playlist is called "Terrorists" and contained two videos, now removed. The other, "Islam", features seven videos, including "The Emergence of Prophecy: The Black Flags From Khorasan", which has been linked to jihadist ideology.

Albrecht Ammon, 18, who lived near the two brothers, said he recently saw Tamerlan and they argued about religion and US foreign policy. He quoted Tsarnaev as saying that many US wars are based on the Bible, which is used as "an excuse for invading other countries". During the argument, Ammon said, Tsarnaev told him he had nothing against the American people, but he had something against the American government. "The Bible was a cheap copy of the Koran," Ammon quoted Tsarnaev as saying.

Tamerlan was married to Katherine Russell, and the couple had a daughter. Judith Russell, Katherine's mother, said: "In the aftermath of the Patriots' Day horror, we know that we never really knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev." A neighbour of Judith Russell, Paula Gillette, said Katherine had recently dressed in less revealing clothing with head coverings.

The brothers' uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, who lives in Maryland, said he had not spoken to Dzhokhar and Tamerlan since 2009, or seen them since 2005. He said Tamerlan had become a devout Muslim some years ago. "When I was speaking to the older one, he started all this religious talk, 'Insh'allah' and all that, and I asked him, 'Where is all that coming from?"' Mr Tsarni told reporters.

But he seemed to think the explanation for the bombings lay less with religion and more with personal resentment. Mr Tsarni said his nephews had struggled to settle in the US and ended up "thereby just hating everyone". Asked what he thought provoked the bombings, Mr Tsarni said: "Being losers, hatred to those who were able to settle themselves... Anything else, anything else to do with religion, with Islam, it's a fraud, it's a fake."

Another source of possible ill-feeling was suggested by the men's father. Tamerlan was, according to law enforcement records, arrested in 2009 for assault and battery on a girlfriend. Charges were dismissed, but his father said the case thwarted Tamerlan's hopes for US citizenship.

The Tsarnaev brothers were ethnic Chechens who were born in Kyrgyzstan and went to school in Dagestan, before Dzhokhar emigrated as a refugee to the US with his parents in 2002. At the time, his elder brother and two sisters were in Kazakhstan but later joined the family in the US. The father set up as a car mechanic, and the two boys went to school. Dzhokhar, at least, attended the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a prestigious state school. The father then went back to Dagestan with the mother, who has travelled back and forth to the US.

The boys' paths diverged somewhat – at least for a while. Tamerlan dropped out after studying accounting at Bunker Hill Community College for just three terms, in autumn 2006, the following spring, and then the autumn of 2008. He was quoted in a Boston University student magazine in 2010 saying: "I don't have a single American friend. I don't understand them." He identified himself then as a Muslim and said he did not drink or smoke.

Dzhokhar, meanwhile, was registered as a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. More than anything, he wanted to be popular, according to those who knew him. Friends and acquaintances say he tried hard to get along with everyone. He used the word "dude". He was cheery, nervous and socially awkward, but not in a way that made people uncomfortable. And he didn't talk much about politics. Nate Mann, 20, who was in the class above him at school, said: "Seriously, he was so, so normal, no accent, an all-American kid in every measurable sense of the word."

He was not, apparently, a successful student. The New York Times reported that a university transcript revealed that he was failing many of his college classes. In two semesters in 2012 and 2013, he got seven failing grades, including Fs in Principles of Modern Chemistry, Intro to American Politics, and Chemistry and the Environment. He had, however, taken a keen interest in Chechen history at school. Dr Brian Glyn Williams, who tutored Dzhokhar in the subject, said: "He was learning his Chechen identity, identifying with the diaspora and identifying with his homeland … He wanted to learn more about Chechnya, who the fighters were, who the commanders were."

In separate interviews, the brothers' parents said they believed their sons incapable of carrying out the bombings. Anzor Tsarnaev said: "Somebody clearly framed them. I don't know who... but they did. And they were so cowardly that they shot the boy dead." Their mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, told CNN: "It's impossible, impossible, for both of them to do such things, so I am really, really, really telling that this is a set-up."

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Financial Services, SQL, Stored Procedure

£55000 - £65000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: One of the mos...

Senior UNIX Engineer (UNIX, Linux, Solaris, IBM MQ Server)

£62000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior UNIX Engineer (UNIX, Linux, Solaris...

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice