Skip to main content

FBI agents interviewed bombing suspect in 2011

By Carol Cratty. Joe Johns and Barbara Starr, CNN
April 21, 2013 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A foreign government told the FBI that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a follower of radical Islam
  • FBI: Agents interviewed him in 2011 at Russia's request
  • Ultimately, the FBI told the foreign government nothing was found
  • McCaul: "If he was on the radar, and they let him out of their sights, then that's an issue"

(CNN) -- FBI agents interviewed one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings two years ago, but found no connection with terror groups.

An FBI official said agents interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011 at the request of the Russian government.

"The request stated that it was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country's region to join unspecified underground groups," the FBI said in a statement.

The FBI said it took a number of investigative steps to check on the request, including looking at his travel history, checking databases for derogatory information and searching for Web postings.

Bombing suspect dreamed of being a boxer
Boston bombing suspect in custody
Teen bomb suspect 'never a troublemaker'
Social media offers clues about brothers
Suspects' father: 'Someone framed them'

Agents also interviewed Tsarnaev's family members, the FBI said, but did not detect terrorist activity.

Boston suspects: Immigrant dream to American nightmare

"The FBI did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign, and those results were provided to the foreign government in the summer of 2011," the FBI's statement said. "The FBI requested but did not receive more specific or additional information from the foreign government."

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Friday that information that Tsarnaev had been interviewed by the FBI in the past was disturbing.

"It's new information to me and it's very disturbing that he's on the FBI's radar screen," McCaul told CNN's Erin Burnett.

No immediate suggestion of accomplices in bombings

McCaul praised the FBI's efforts investigating the case since Monday's bombings.

"But if he was on the radar and they let him out of their sights, then that's an issue, certainly, for me," McCaul said.

The suspects' parents told Russian state media that the FBI had been speaking with their sons.

Analysis: Older suspect in bombings grew increasingly religious, analysis shows

"FBI came to them two or three times, asking 'Are you Chechens? Is anyone harassing you?' Why would anyone offend us? Then they came again. Said they wanted to talk to Tamerlan. We didn't know what was going on, didn't know whether he had done something. But they were saying, 'Oh, it's nothing, it's just routine.' They talked to us at our home," father Anzor Tsarnaev told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency. "I heard myself that they (the FBI) said: 'We know that you read, what you drink, what you eat, where you go.' And then they added that that's routine practice to prevent bombings on the streets of Boston, so that our kids can go to school in peace. This conversation happened half a year ago. But I keep asking, why did they have to talk to him about that then?"

Mother Zubeidat Tsarnaeva told Russia Today that the FBI had been checking on Tamerlan for three to five years.

"They knew what he was doing, what sites he was visiting. They followed his every move, yet today they say this is a terrorist act," she said. "The FBI was afraid of my eldest son because he was a leader, could stand up for himself, and talked about Islam a lot. Once they officially called me and told me that they don't doubt his decency. But at the same time they said he gets information from extremists' sites and that they are very afraid of him."

Earlier Friday, a U.S. official familiar with the latest intelligence information on the Boston Marathon bombings said initial indications were that the two suspects do not have direct links to any major al Qaeda group or affiliates, or to a new significant terrorist threat to the United States.

What their family has to say

These are some early assessments but far from final conclusions, the official said. The assessments are part of a full interagency review now under way by the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement community, who are going back through their databases and information looking for any links to the two men.

The intelligence review earlier Friday had focused to a large extent on regional militant connections the men have had in Russia or Central Asia. But the official also noted they simply may have been "inspired" by a militant ideology or may simply have been disgruntled persons aiming to carry out an attack, and had no connections to foreign groups. "We simply don't know yet," he said.

The review was ordered by James Clapper, director of National Intelligence. Initially, before the men were identified by the FBI, the review was looking at any indications of a threat emerging from overseas against the United States. Once the identities of the men became known, with their possible ethnic Chechen background, the focus shifted.

The intelligence community is tasked under the review with checking any intelligence gathered overseas while the FBI will focus on what is known inside the United States.

GOP congressmen want answers on Boston suspect's 2011 questioning

CNN's Boriana Milanova and Amir Ahmed contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Boston Marathon Bombings
Survivors of three earlier bombings describe their journeys forward — and offer poignant words for those just one year away from the day that changed their lives.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 0351 GMT (1151 HKT)
"United, we will always persevere." That was the message Massachusetts shared on the anniversary of twin bombings that turned last year's Boston Marathon from a celebration into a day of horror.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1847 GMT (0247 HKT)
I'm running it to make a simple statement: Acts of cowardice will not stop me from exercising my rights as an athlete and a human.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1940 GMT (0340 HKT)
Many of those whose lives were shattered are still struggling to put the pieces back together. Here are some of the victims, as well as larger funds, who continue to need your support.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
As April 15 approaches, the fact that we tell time in circles brings us to remember the attack on the Boston Marathon one year ago.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 0247 GMT (1047 HKT)
CNN's Bill Weir talks to Carlos Arredondo about helping those injured immediately after the Boston Marathon bombing.
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
By running in response to the tragedy, we weren't attempting to negate the irreparable harm done to the people of Boston last year. We wanted to do something, anything, to try to process it.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
All of our assumptions have turned out to be wrong. Here are four things we've learned since then:
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2017 GMT (0417 HKT)
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been frozen in the public mind by four images.
April 8, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Adrianne Haslet-Davis' life as a dancer was shattered last year at the Boston Marathon bombings.
March 24, 2014 -- Updated 1140 GMT (1940 HKT)
A man who lost both legs in the Boston Marathon attack is engaged to the woman he was waiting for at the finish line.
April 17, 2013 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
Mistaken identity in the hospital added to her family's grief.
April 24, 2013 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The slain MIT cop "was born to be a police officer."
April 19, 2013 -- Updated 0237 GMT (1037 HKT)
The graduate student from China followed her passion to Boston.
April 17, 2013 -- Updated 0510 GMT (1310 HKT)
Almost a year ago, 8-year-old Martin Richard wrote four simple words on a sign at school: No more hurting people.
July 17, 2013 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Mery Daniel couldn't wait for Marathon. It was one of the things the aspiring doctor and Haitian immigrant loved most about living in Boston.
May 2, 2013 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
After twin blasts shook Boston -- killing three and wounding more than 260 others -- investigators sprung into action looking for those responsible.
April 28, 2013 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
The black Mercedes SUV sped down Spruce Street going about 70 mph, the driver struggling to maintain control. The vehicle had a busted headlight and flat tire.
Click through our galleries of the Boston Marathon bombing, from perspectives on the attack to the suspects, as well as the manhunt and celebrations in Boston after both suspects were found.
ADVERTISEMENT