A slain Canadian jihadi gave Russian counter-terrorism agents the tip that put alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev on their radar two years ago, Bay State U.S. Rep. William R. Keating confirmed yesterday — raising questions about whether Tsarnaev’s direct link to the known militant was ever passed on to the FBI or local authorities.
Keating told the Herald yesterday his staff in Russia has learned William Plotnikov, while under interrogation in the militant hotbed of Dagestan, named Tsarnaev as a fellow extremist.
“That’s when the Russian government started looking at Tamerlan and he showed up on a jihadist website,” Keating (D-Bourne) said. “That’s when they contacted the U.S.”
The interrogation prompted Russian authorities to ask the FBI to investigate Tsarnaev in 2011. It is unclear whether the Russians told the FBI that Tsarnaev was associated with Plotnikov or another suspected extremist, Mansur Mukhamed Nidal.
An FBI spokesman yesterday did not respond to the Herald’s request to view the Russian authorities’ plea for help.
Both Nidal and Plotnikov were killed in police raids last summer, and Tsarnaev fled back to the United States shortly thereafter.
The detail of the information from the Russians to the FBI — and whether the feds passed it on sufficiently to local authorities — is sure to come up next week on Capitol Hill, where the House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on the bombings.
“I have no idea what the Russians did or did not share, but the fact they brought up his name should have been a flashing red light,” U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a member of the committee, told the Herald last night. “You combine that with international travel, and somebody’s going to have to answer some questions.
“The information is only good if it gets to those who can actually act on it,” he said. “I want to know specifically if they shared that information with the authorities in Boston.”
The link between Tsarnaev and Plotnikov implies that Tsarnaev may not have been totally self-radicalized, said Craig Albert, a Georgia Regents University professor who testified about radical Islamists in the Caucasus region at a Congressional committee hearing last week.
“You don’t go to Dagestan and just meet a jihadist,” Albert told the Herald yesterday. “If
Tamerlan was able to go there and make contact with this individual, somebody else must have known about him as well, which implies a larger connection
than we’re aware of.”
Another expert on Muslim extremists in the region, Georgetown University professor Christopher Swift, was more cautious about interpreting Plotnikov’s identification of Tsarnaev as a potential terrorist.
“This is a fishing expedition the Russians were on for possible radicals, rather than a hunting expedition for known militants,” he said. “If the Russians had any evidence that Plotnikov was involved with militant activity, they would have detained him rather than interrogating and releasing him.”
Meanwhile yesterday, federal agents with bomb-sniffing dogs searched several spots around Dartmouth — home to the University of Massachusetts campus where Tsarnaev’s younger brother and alleged accomplice, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, attended classes.
U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz confirmed the searches were related to the bombing investigation, but that none of the material agents were looking for posed a threat to the public.
By: Matt Stout, John Zaremba
May 4, 2013