New details have emerged about how the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects may have been swayed by a radical, anti-American strain of Islam.
Republican Senator Richard Burr said after the Senate Intelligence Committee was briefed by federal law enforcement officials that there was “no question” that older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev was “the dominant force” behind the attacks, and that the brothers were apparently radicalised by material on the internet rather than by contact with militant groups overseas.
Authorities believe neither of the Russian-born ethnic Chechens had links to terror groups. However, two US officials said Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26 – who died last week in a gun battle – 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.
Family members in the US and abroad said he was steered toward a strict strain of Islam under the influence of a Muslim convert known to the Tsarnaev family only as Misha.
After befriending Misha, Tsarnaev 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 the September 11 attacks.
“Somehow, he just took his brain,” said Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, from Maryland, who recalled conversations with Tsarnaev’s worried father about Misha’s influence.
The condition of the younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was upgraded from serious to fair as investigators continued building their case against the 19-year-old university student. He could face the death penalty after being charged with joining forces with his brother in setting off the shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bombs that killed three people.
More than 260 people were injured by the bomb blasts last week. About 50 are still in hospital.
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, local leaders said.
Then, in 2008 or 2009, the elder brother met Misha, a heavyset bald man with a reddish beard, and they are believed to have attended a Boston-area mosque together.
Hoping to learn more about the motives, US investigators travelled to southern Russia yesterday to speak to the parents of the two suspects, a US Embassy official said.
The parents live in Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim province in Russia’s Caucasus, where Islamic militants have waged an insurgency against Russian security forces for years.
In Washington, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were briefed by the FBI and other law enforcement officials at a closed-door session.
Afterwards, Republican Senator Marco Rubio described the two brothers as “a couple of individuals who became radicalised using internet sources”.
“So we need to be prepared for Boston-type attacks, not just 9/11-style attacks,” Mr Rubio said, referring to lone-wolf terrorists as opposed to well-organised teams from established terror networks.
Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said law enforcement officials have got “minimal” information from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and are still looking into whether the brothers had training or coaching from a foreign group.