Another mystery revealed. We finally know what led Russian authorities to warn the U.S. government about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder brother suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing. Russia secretly recorded two phone calls involving the suspect’s mother. In one of them, Tsarnaev “briefly discussed jihad with his mother,” reports the Associated Press, which was the first to break the story. In the other, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, Tamerlan’s mother, was recorded talking to someone in southern Russia who was already under investigation by the FBI in an unrelated case.
Intelligence officials have also come across text messages in which the mother discussed how Tamerlan is ready to die for Islam, according to two Newsday sources.
The FBI has only learned about these phone calls, which never discussed specific plans nor attacks within the United States, after the bombings. In 2011, all Russian authorities said was they were concerned the mother-son duo had become religious extremists. The FBI requested more information after interviewing Tamerlan but received no further cooperation from Russian officials, who later went to the CIA with the same information. The mother and son were placed in late 2011 on the Terror Identities Datamart Environment database, a low-level watch list that contains some half-a-million names.
Now the question is whether the FBI or the CIA would have taken the warnings more seriously had they known about the recorded phone calls. “Would we have gone farther?” a law enforcement official tells the New York Times. “Maybe, maybe not.”