MOSCOW -- Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings, called his mother Thursday morning, hours before being killed in a shootout with police, and told her he had received a call from the FBI, she said.
“He would call me every day from America in the last days,” Zubeidat Tsarnaev said Sunday in a telephone interview with The Times from her home in the Russian republic of Dagestan, “and during our last conversation on the morning [before the shootout], he was especially touching and tender and alarmed at the same time,” she said. “He said he got a private phone call from [the FBI] and said that they told him he was under suspicion and should come see them.”
“ ‘If you need me, you will find me,’ he said, and hung up,” she said, beginning to sob. “You know the FBI followed him for several years and when he got back from Dagestan last year they called him and asked him what was the purpose of his visit to his homeland.”
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), a former FBI agent who has not hesitated to criticize his former employer, said Sunday that the FBI had done “a very thorough job” of vetting Tamerlan Tsarnaev after the Russian intelligence service flagged him in early 2011 as a possible Islamic radical. Rogers said he didn’t think the bureau had missed anything significant.
In her remarks, the suspects’ mother focused primarily on her older son, but also mentioned the younger brother, Dzhokhar, who was badly wounded in the shootout and was captured by police later Friday, hiding in a boat in suburban Watertown, Mass. He remains hospitalized and in police custody.
“When [Tamerlan] talked to me that last time, Dzhokhar was in his house too, and he said he would give him a lift home,” their mother said. “And then the next day my daughter Bella called me and said, ‘Mama, turn on the television.’ ... Now I live with the television turned on at all times,” she said, crying again.
Zubeidat Tsarnaev said she and her husband are planning to go to the United States to clear their sons’ names. She said her husband’s brother “is a lawyer with a big oil company and he said that he will help us find a good lawyer for Dzhokhar.”
She said that in recent months, Tamerlan had told her on the phone several times that while he loved and enjoyed America, he wanted to move back to Dagestan and had persuaded his wife, who is American, to move back with him and their daughter.
“He wanted to be among his people, among his relatives, close to his roots,” she said, sobbing.
The Tsarnaevs are ethnic Chechens from the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. In 1992 they tried to move to their historic homeland of Chechnya, a restive region of southern Russia, but in 1994 the first war between Moscow and the regional separatists broke out. The Tsarnaevs moved back to Kyrgyzstan and from there in 1999 to neighboring Dagestan. In 2002 they immigrated to the United States. The parents returned to Dagestan a year ago while their sons and two daughters remained in the U.S.
An Islamic militant group in Dagestan issued a statement Sunday distancing itself from the marathon bombing.
“The Caucasian mujahedin are not fighting against the United States of America,” the group, called the Caucasus Emirate, said in its statement. “We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims.”
Experts and rights activists in Moscow agreed that taking the war of terror across the ocean to the United States doesn’t help the cause of Russian radical Islamists, despite their routine anti-American rhetoric.
“I think we can trust this statement, because attacking the U.S.A. is not in the interests of North Caucasus insurgents,” Tatiana Kasatkina, executive director of Memorial, a Moscow-based human rights group that monitors events in the troubled region. “The United States doesn’t support Russia in this regional conflict and more than that, it regularly criticizes the Russian leadership for violations of human rights in the course of this conflict.”
For the record, 4:51 p.m. April 21: A previous version of this post said Tamerlan Tsarnaev called his mother Friday morning. It was Thursday.