WASHINGTON -- Federal investigators in the United States have learned that the main suspect in last month’s Boston Marathon bombings met with an exiled former Chechen rebel fighter in Manchester, New Hampshire less than a month before carrying out the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260.
Police in Manchester confirmed to VOA that FBI agents have searched the home of the former Chechen resistance figure, Musa Khadjimuradov, and examined the hard drives of his computers. Khadjimuradov confirmed to VOA that FBI agents came to his home on May 14 with search warrants and also took a sample of his DNA and his fingerprints.
Khadjimuradov also said he had had repeated contacts over the past several years with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, the Boston bombing suspect who was killed in a shootout with police April 19. Tsarnaev’s brother, Dzhokhar, 19, was captured by police later that day.
Police charged both Tsarnaev brothers in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings case after identifying them in video images taken at the explosion sites near the race's finish line.
Guns And Fireworks
According to Khadjimuradov, the FBI first interviewed him about the case on April 29. He said FBI and Homeland Security agents had been in frequent contact with him ever since.
He said the agents showed up with search warrants and began asking him about Tamerlan Tsarnaev practicing marksmanship at a Manchester shooting range and buying large quantities of fireworks in February at a fireworks store in nearby Seabook, New Hampshire.
The FBI has said its tests on the Boston bombing debris determined that the devices used explosives extracted from commercially available fireworks. According to the FBI, Tsarnaev bought a $200 fireworks kit at the Seabrook store on February 6, containing 24 black-powder-packed shells. The FBI report said the store gave him another similar kit for free as a purchase bonus.
Khadjimuradov said the FBI agents were "saying [Tsarnaev] has a shooting practice here in New Hampshire, like two or three times. So he [bought] fireworks here from New Hampshire, you know, and he [bought] some ammunition for the guns here in New Hampshire. And before [the Boston bombings] happened, like three or four weeks, he came to my house. So now I believe they [are] thinking like he [was] coming here to New Hampshire [and] like I tried to help him or do something, you know, like that."
Khadjimuradov came to the United States from Chechnya in 2004 under the auspices of the United Nations refugee program. He is paralyzed from the waist down from gunshot wounds suffered in Chechnya in 2001 and uses a wheelchair to get around.
According to Khadjimuradov, he first met Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2006 at the annual gathering of the Chechen Society of Boston. He said Tsarnaev subsequently visited him three times in Manchester, the last time with his American wife, Katherine, and their young child.
He said he and Tamerlan never discussed Tsarnaev’s fervent embrace of Islam, the cause of Chechen independence from Russia, or politics of any kind.
"Nothing, never," Khadjimuradov said. "He never talked about the religious, politics, or anything like that to me. As I said, [in the] past three years I saw him three times."
During one visit in the summer of 2012, he said Tamerlan told him of his six-month stay in his native Daghestan the first half of that year. The Daghestan visit has been the subject of intense interest to U.S. and Russian investigators, who have been trying to find out if Tsarnaev had dealings with Chechen rebels while there.
Even before Tsarnaev’s trip to Daghestan in the first half of last year, Russia’s FSB intelligence agency had contacted both the FBI and CIA inquiring about him and warning that Tsarnaev might try "to join unspecified underground groups" if he visited the Caucasus region.
Though Khadjimuradov said the FBI agents told him he was not a suspect in the Boston bombings case, he said he believed their intensified interest in him stemmed from his own background in the separatist cause back in his Chechnya homeland as well as Russia’s interest in the case.
Before leaving Chechnya in 2004, Khadjimuradov was an aide to one of the most prominent leaders of the Chechen separatist movement, Akhmed Zakayev, who now lives in exile in London. Moscow considers Zakayev a war criminal and has asked for his extradition, but Britain has refused.
"Now [the FSB is trying] to get to him by labeling him a terrorist,” Khadjimuradov speculated.
VOA's Brian Padden contributed to this report