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Tsarnaev Case Highlights Communication Breakdown Between Daghestani Agencies

Tamerlan Tsarnaev waits for a decision in a boxing match during the Golden Gloves National Tournament of Champions in Salt Lake City, Utah, in May 2009.
The Boston Marathon bombings have served to corroborate many observers’ previously unsubstantiated hunch that one reason for the Russian security services’ inability to contain the North Caucasus insurgency is that the various agencies responsible fail to share information among themselves.

In this particular case, Daghestan’s Center for the Struggle Against Extremism apparently failed to share its file on Boston suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev with other agencies.

Over the past week, Daghestan’s Security Council Secretary Magomed Baachilov and Interior Minister Abdurashid Magomedov have both gone on record as saying there is no evidence that, during his extended visit to Makhachkala last year, Tamerlan Tsarnaev had any contact with insurgency recruiters.

The independent Russian-language weekly “Chernovik” on April 22 quoted Baachilov as saying he has no information to indicate Tsarnaev was recruited by the insurgency.

Magomedov for his part similarly affirmed that his ministry is not aware of any contacts between Tsarnaev and members of the insurgency. Magomedov reportedly added that Tsarnaev had spent “only three or four days” with his parents in Makhachkala, although Russian and Western media say he remained there for several months, from late January until July 2012.

Russian journalist Irina Gordienko has demonstrated that both men were wrong in their suppositions.

In an article published on April 27 in "Novaya gazeta,” she quotes an unnamed Center for the Struggle Against Extremism staffer as saying that the agency opened a file on Tsarnaev in April 2012 after he was seen repeatedly in the company of Makhmud Mansur Nidal, 18, a suspected insurgency recruiter. Nidal was killed in May 2012 during an antiterror operation in Makhachkala.

After Nidal’s death, according to Gordienko’s sources, Tsarnaev became a virtual recluse. He left Daghestan two months later, just days after the death in a special operation in Kayakent Raion of William Plotnikov, a Canadian citizen whom Tsarnaev may have met in Toronto in 2009 and with whom he corresponded by e-mail.

Plotnikov reportedly converted to Islam and traveled to Daghestan. He was detained in Izberbash in December 2010 on suspicion of links with the insurgency but subsequently released. It was apparently as a result of questioning him that Russian security forces first asked their U.S. counterparts for information about Tsarnaev.

On the basis of Tsarnaev’s contacts in Makhachkala, Gordienko’s contact in the Center for the Struggle with Extremism advanced the same hypothesis as I did last week: that Tsarnaev may have traveled to Daghestan with the intention of joining the insurgency but that the potential recruiter (Nidal) was initially wary of him. That specialist explained that potential recruits are “quarantined” for several months while their suitability is assessed.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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