Here's a translation of the original Russian from Novaya gazeta, an independent investigative newspaper in Moscow which has published new information about findings on the Tsarnaev case which formed the basis of this New York Times story.
Since the Times frustratingly leaves out some of the important details, and also doesn't capture the actual speculative nature of this story, it's important to look at the original.
By Irina Gordienko
According to information obtained by Novaya gazeta, Tamerlan Tsarnayev tried to join the Caucasus underground.
Officials from the Republic of Dagestan Center for Combating Extremism [of the Interior Ministry] were “working up” the “Boston bomber” Tamerlan Tsarnaev during his stay in the republic in 2012, and even put him on their surveillance list.
An official of the Republic of Dagestan Center for Combating Extremism (RDCCE, the main office in every republic of the North Caucasus which deals with the “forest fighters”) told Novaya gazeta that Tamerlan Tsarnaev came into their agents’ field of vision in April 2012. Siloviki [agents of the so-called "power" ministries of police, military, and intelligence--Trans.] repeatedly “placed” him together with a certain Makhmud Mansur Nidal. The 18-year-old Makhmud Nidal was half Kumyk, half Palestinian, and at that time had already been under surveillance for about a year. Agents consider Nidal was a liaison for the underground, and one of his tasks was to recruit new members. Therefore, all persons with whom Nidal communicated inevitably fell “under the microscope” and were carefully vetted.
During this vetting, it turned out that the tall young man of strong build named Tamerlan Tsarnaev had come from Dagestan from the USA, where he had permanent residence. A scanning of Tsarnaev’s telephone provided no results; he did not visit banned sites or contact anyone who was suspicious. But from back files it was determined that Tsarnaev had come to the attention of agents a number of times. In early 2011, according to information from the RDCCE agents, FSB had already sent a request for information to the FBI regarding Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Law-enforcers indicated that the name Tsarnaev had surfaced when a Canadian citizen, William Plotnikov, was detained in Dagestan. Plotnikov “espoused radical Islam,” and they asked to send information about where Tamerlan Tsarnaev lived and what he was doing.
William Plotnikov, 21, a Russian who converted to Islam in Canada, was detained in December 2010 in the town of Izberbash, suspected of ties to militants. At first the RDCCE agents “worked him over,” then the Dagestan Republic’s FSB office. They worked totally seriously, employing “a wide arsenal of special means” [hint that torture was used--Trans.]. During the interrogations, Plotnikov told the agents that he had come to Dagestan from Toronto, where he had lived since 2005 with his parents, and had come alone – to study Islam. He also gave a list of the names of other emigres from the North Caucasus in Europe and America with whom he had been in contact over the Internet. The law-enforcers ran the names through social media networks and found among them figured a certain Tamerlan Tsarnaev “from Dagestan”. Plotnikov actively communicated with Tsarnaev at one of the popular Islamic social networks – the World Association of Muslim Youth (WAMY), which Tamerlan had joined from his page on Youtube. FSB agents studied Tsarnaev’s page and requested information from their colleagues abroad. However, the Russian siloviki [power ministries] never received an answer. Tsarnaev’s name then disappeared into the files.
But Plotnikov had to be let go. No criminal evidence could be found on the young man, and his father from Canada began to search for his son. It turned out that William Plotnikov, without telling his parents, had left Canada and travelled to Russia, and two months later, they found his tracks in Dagestan. In a panic, the parents appealed to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia with a request to help find their son. Before his detention, and after he was released by the siloviki, Plotnikov lived in the village of Utamysh for about half a year. The local residents told me that they remember well “the calm, kind and very religious Russian lad” who lived for a long time in the village who “was not interested in anything but fasts and prayers”.
It’s quite possible that Tsarnaev and Plotnikov were personally acquainted. Both were involved in boxing and regularly took part in competitions. Both began to display an intense interest in religion in 2009, which Tsarnaev’s parents spoke about, and which was also mentioned by Plotnikov’s father, with whom I managed to connect.
According to some information, in 2009 Tamerlan came to a boxing competition in Canada where his aunt lives, and it is quite likely that they met at the matches. Then Tamerlan visited his aunt several times in Toronto where Plotnikov lived with his parents. We have no information that Tsarnaev and Plotnikov met in Dagestan.
“After Tsarnaev came into our field of vision in Dagestan already,” the RDCCE official continued his story, "we took his case for review and opened up a record in the operations registry. We pay particular attention to “foreigners” or Russians who have recently converted to Islam; they are very idealistic and psychologically vulnerable, it is easier to incline them to anything, even to suicide bombing.”
It was determined that Tsarnaev came to Makhachkala at the end of January 2012 to see his father and to turn in his Russian passport. He didn’t have a return ticket. During his stay in Dagestan, Tamerlan lived in Makhachkala the entire time and only in March went for a brief period to the Chechen Republic to see his relatives in the Tsarnaevs’ native village of Chiri-Yurt
On May 19, 2012, during a special operation [raid] in Makhachkala, [Russian forces] killed Makhmud Nidal. I spoke with a man who was present during the special operation during the negotiations about surrender: “At first he agreed to turn himself in, but after they let out the women and children, he refused. Nidal knew that the siloviki had a lot of information on him.” After the special operation, the national anti-terrorist committee published a photograph of Makhmud Nidal in the forest with fighters who were in the Makhachkala group.
After Nidal’s death, according to operations [surveillance] information, Tamerlan moved out of his father’s apartment to the apartment of relatives and did not go out in public without extreme necessity. His Aunt Patimat even brought him food.
After two months, on July 14, 2012, eight people were killed during another special operation near the village of Utamysh in Kayakent District. Among them was William Plotnikov, who for several months before his death moved to “illegal status,” or to put it simply, went off with the fighters into the forest. And from that moment, agents lost sight of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The police came to visit his father, but the father claimed that everything was fine, that his son had returned to the USA. They didn’t believe his father, and supposed that Tsarnaev had gone off to the forest. They were made cautious by the fact that Tamerlan left without waiting to pick up his passport, the documents for which he had submitted at the end of June 2012.
It was after this story that the FSB sent their second inquiry – and now to the CIA – regarding Tamerlan Tsarnaev with a request to trace his activity and contacts in the USA and share information. But that inquiry remained without an answer as well.
“Judging from everything,” says the RDCCE official, “Tamerlan Tsarnaev traveled to Dagestan with the purpose of linking up with the fighters. However, it didn’t work. It’s not easy, first you have to make connection with a liaison, and then go through a period of 'quarantine' – before accepting a person, the fighters vet him for several months. After the annihilation of Nidal and Plotnikov, having lost his 'contacts,' he, Tsarnaev, was frightened and ‘jumped’”.
In recent days, the operations file of Tamerlan Tsarnaev was removed from the RDCCE’s archives.
1. Novaya gazeta has a good reputation as an independent investigative newspaper, one of the few remaining in Russia, which has lost its own correspondents to assassinations which have never been adequately prosecuted (such as the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, who covered Chechnya). And Irina Gordienko has been critically covering the Boston Bomber story, and wrote the article that debunked Izvestia's smear of the Jamestown Foundation for supposedly "training" him at a "seminar in the Caucasus". She was able to determine that the official cited by Izvestiya in Georgia didn't exist, and found another Georgian official who said they could find nothing like this at all in Georgia. So that's by way of having a good reputation.
2. Even so, on this story, very dangerous to investigate, she is at the mercy of the one official or officials from the government's Center for Combating Extremism, which is essentially the FSB's counter-terrorism arm although it is not formally called that and there are other formal agencies charged with CT; this body performs more of the sort of surveillance on individuals and groups that would not be allowed in the US for reasons of Constitutionally-protected civil rights.
So we have to take it as a possible disinformation campaign, whereby bows are neatly tied that may not tie at all -- i.e. "let's just assume all North Americans know each other". In the first days after the bombing, we discussed the Plotnikov story as similar, but didn't tie the two together. Unless somebody can place Tsarnaev even in Toronto, or even at the same wrestling matches, this may not add up.
3. The people in the story who could tell if they are linked to Tsarnaev are now dead at the hands of Russian forces. Convenient! So we don't know if they were in touch or not. BTW, another Armenian convert, an imam, was also killed in Dagestan and links have been sought with him, as well.
4. The Russians were involved in their largest campaign to date against extremists, and killed or captured more than 900 extremists, such as they are (this could be a mix of real militants and merely devout people, we don't know). In that hugely dangerous climate, it's a marvel that Tsarnaev could think he could get anywhere near anybody, and conversely, that nervous militants themselves would be willing to trust anybody new to recruit.
In the 1990s during the first two ears, at least two Americans disappeared and were presumed murdered in Chechnya, Fred Cuny, and a young American photojournalist from Pennsylvania. And it was said about their deaths that Chechen rebels suspected they were CIA agents, and they feared connection to the CIA, because they couldn't be sure that they wouldn't be betrayed or that the CIA didn't collude with the FSB. Cuny wasn't a CIA agent, but he met with then-secretary of defense William Perry, and wrote about it for the New York Review of Books, and that caused both Russians and Chechens to distrust him. The other American seems to have been a naive young man hoping to make a career who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. At least one other American journalist has been killed in Chechen covering the battlefield; not sure if any have been killed in Dagestan. The point is, a connection to North American might put up flags for the Islamists to distrust.
5. Once again, we find the father's story about what his son was doing and when he was doing it to be at odds with what others are saying, in this case the anti-extremism officials.
6. It must be said that if the FSB knew only what we are being told here in the voice of this anti-extremist center official, that's way more than the FBI knew (although they could read the open online newsletters of Russian human rights activists like those at Caucasian Knot to see the numerous raids and killings of extremists during this period). If Dagestani officials actually traced Tsarnaev as having met with Nidal, why didn't way more alarm bells go off East and West?! The real mystery is why the Kremlin didn't set more red flags over Tsarnaev's file, given that he didn't pick up his passport and he was in the region when they killed a Canadian and others that they claim to show him possibly in touch with.
There are internal passports and foreign passports, and the passport in question here seems to be the *internal* passport. It is requried to register with police and migration authorities, and he would have to present something -- and it appears he used his near-expiration date Kyrgyz passport.
7. Readers in the comments rightly ask: "na kakiye shi shi?" i.e. what bucks did they use for all this? He didn't arrive with a return ticket -- who bought it? Dad doesn't seem to be that wealthy -- what's up.
And that's where I ask once again about the very wealthy sports clubs, awash with money, and whether they provided cash and assistance, as they are run by intelligence and possibly infiltrated with real or turned Islamists as well.
The connection between Anzhi Makhachkala and the Tsarnaevs hasn't been proven, except for the logo on Dzhokhar's twitter. From the Times today, we learn that the soccer stadium is right next to the mosque Tamerlan visited, but we don't know if Tamerlan went there, if he was focused now on religion and not sports, or even if he did, whether he made any contact with anyone or anyone helped him with payments.
I asked journalist Sam Knight, one of the few people who has covered both Anzhi abroad and in Dagestan, both before and after the bombing, and he said he didn't see any connection with the Tsarnaevs. It may not be visible to see, but certainly he has done an excellent job of chronicling the important role of sports clubs for the state and for young people in Russia and the Caucasus specifically, and the incredible amount of money passing through the hands of the owners and their vision of trying to provide an alternative to the violence of the region -- but in collusion with the brutal leaders of the North Caucasus supervised directly by Putin, whose methods for suppressing resistance may not only be ineffective -- they may be causing further internationalization of their local conflict.