Russian agents placed the elder Boston bombing suspect under surveillance during a six-month visit to southern Russia last year, then scrambled to find him when he suddenly disappeared after police killed a Canadian jihadist, a security official told The Associated Press.
The security official with the Anti-Extremism Center, a federal agency under Russia's Interior Ministry, confirmed the Russians shared their concerns. He told the AP that Russian agents were watching Tsarnaev, and that they searched for him when he disappeared two days after the July 2012 death of the Canadian man, who had joined the Islamic insurgency in the region. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
Security officials suspected ties between Tsarnaev and the Canadian - an ethnic Russian named William Plotnikov - according to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, which is known for its independence and investigative reporting, and cited an unnamed official with the Anti-Extremism Center, which tracks militants. The newspaper said the men had social networking ties that brought Tsarnaev to the attention of Russian security services for the first time in late 2010.
It certainly wouldn't be surprising if the men had met. Both were amateur boxers of roughly the same age whose families had moved from Russia to North America when they were teenagers. In recent years, both had turned to Islam and expressed radical beliefs. And both had traveled to Dagestan, a republic of some 3 million people.The AP could not independently confirm whether the two men had communicated on social networks or crossed paths either in Dagestan or in Toronto, where Plotnikov had lived with his parents and where Tsarnaev had an aunt.
Plotnikov had been detained in Dagestan in December 2010 on suspicion of having ties to the militants and during his interrogation was forced to hand over a list of social networking friends from the United States and Canada who like him had once lived in Russia, Novaya Gazeta reported. The newspaper said Tsarnaev's name was on that list, bringing him for the first time to the attention of Russia's secret services.
The official with Russia's Anti-Extremism Center said Tsarnaev was filmed attending a mosque in Makhachkala whose worshippers adhere to a more radical strain of Islam. The official would give no further details about what the Russian security services knew about Tsarnaev's activities in Dagestan or about any possible connection to Plotnikov.
Novaya Gazeta said Tsarnaev was also seen in the company of Mahmud Nidal - a man who was both Palestinian and Kumyk, one of the dozens of ethnic groups living in Dagestan - and who was believed to have ties to Islamic militants in the southern Russian region.
Shortly after Plotnikov identified Tsarnaev during his December 2010 interrogation, the Russian secret services, the FSB, studied Tsarnaev's pages on social networking sites and asked the FBI for more information, the Russian newspaper said.The FBI has acknowledged receiving the request.