Last week, members of the Tsarnaev family—at least those not still denying the brothers' involvement in the bombing—told reporters of a mysterious radical known as "Misha" who they said played a key role in Tamerlan's transformation from someone who was only nominally religious to an extremist capable of the Boston Marathon bombings. "Somehow, he just took his brain," was how Ruslan Tsarni, Tamerlan's uncle, described Misha's influence on the elder Tsarnaev brother. Naturally, that got everyone's attention and sent reporters on their own post-marathon manhunt for someone who was quickly billed as everything from Tamerlan's "mysterious Islamist Svengali" to "the Boston bombings' mystery man."
The New York Review of Books' Christian Caryl managed over the weekend to do what no other reporter was able to, and tracked down Misha, whose real name is Mikhail Allakhverdov. The 39-year-old, who is of Armenian-Ukrainian descent, didn't quite live up to all the hype (from either the Tsarnaevs, or the headlines that followed their accusations):
I found Allakverdov at his home in Rhode Island, in a lower middle class neighborhood, where he lives in modest, tidy apartment with his elderly parents. He confirmed he was a convert to Islam and that he had known Tamerlan Tsarnaev, but he flatly denied any part in the bombings. "I wasn’t his teacher. If I had been his teacher, I would have made sure he never did anything like this," Allakhverdov said. ...
Allakhverdov said he had known Tamerlan in Boston, where he lived until about three years ago, and has not had any contact with him since. He declined to describe the nature of his acquaintance with Tamerlan or the Tsarnaev family, but said he had never met the family members who are now accusing him of radicalizing Tamerlan.
Obviously, it's impossible to know if Allakhverdov is telling the complete truth, but parts of his story do line up flush with what others are saying. According to Caryl, a "close friend" of the Tsarnaev family in Boston told him that Misha may have never actually visited Tamerlan at home, despite what Tamerlan's former brother-in-law had told reporters last week when first pointing to the Muslim convert as a key player in Tsarnaev's transformation. The FBI, meanwhile, hasn't officially commented on the record about Allakhverdov, although over the weekend it suggested to the Associated Press that they've found no ties between him and the attack, or terrorism in general.
Allakhverdov, meanwhile, confirmed that he's been interviewed by federal authorities, and said that he has cooperated fully. "I gave them my computer and my phone and everything I wanted to show I haven’t done anything," Allakhverdov said. "And they said they are about to return them to me. And the agents who talked told me they are about to close my case."
You can read the full NYRB piece here. Also be on the lookout for a longer piece on the Tsarnaevs, along with Boston's Chechen and Russian communities, in an upcoming issue of the magazine.
This post has been updated with additonal information.