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Official: Russia heard Boston suspects' mother 'discussing jihad'

By Susan Candiotti and Ben Brumfield, CNN
April 29, 2013 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Russian special forces kill members of jihadist group in Dagestan
  • "Everything was done appropriately, and we got good leads," attorney general says
  • U.S. official: Russia intercepted communication in which mother may have been talking to son
  • The discussion of "jihad" was vague, the official says

Read a version of this story in Arabic.

(CNN) -- Russian special forces killed two members of a jihadist group during an early morning weekend raid in the semi-autonomous republic of Dagestan, two Russian police sources told CNN Monday.

While authorities have not said the raid Sunday had anything to do with the Boston Marathon bombing, one of those killed was an associate of Abu Dujan, the slain leader of a militant islamist organization that produced at least one video that slain bombing suspect Tamarlan Tsarnaev apparently posted and later removed from a social media account, according to analysis by CNN and the SITE Intelligence Group.

Videos linked to the group show how to make homemade explosive devices, among other things.

U.S. investigators have been looking into whether Tsarnaev could have been influenced by such groups during his six-month visit to the region in 2012.

The interplay between U.S. officials and their counterparts in Russia -- who have been battling islamist militants in the region for years -- has emerged as a key thread in discussions surrounding the April 15 Boston bombing, which killed three and left more than 260 wounded. Authorities say Tsarnaev and his younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, also shot a police officer to death.

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Over the weekend, an official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN that Russian authorities had intercepted a phone call in early 2011 from one of the Tsarnaev brothers in the U.S. to their mother in Dagestan.

The wiretapped communication discussed jihad but the conversation was vague, according to two U.S. officials. It's unclear why the Russians were eavesdropping on the mother or for how long.

CNN has previously reported that the FBI conducted an investigation -- including an interview with Tsarnaev -- after Russia expressed concerns in 2011.

The Russians also raised questions about Tsarnaev's mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, according to several sources. Her name was subsequently added to a terrorism database along with her son's, an intelligence official said last week.

The FBI said at the time it found nothing to justify further investigation and that Russia did not respond to U.S .requests for more information. The case was closed after several months.

One of the officials declined to say whether the information from the wiretapped phone call would have made a difference in uncovering plans for a future attack on the U.S.

However, CNN contributor Tom Fuentes says the FBI would have found that information helpful after Russians officials asked agency to look into Tamerlan Tsarnaev for a possible shift toward increasing Islamic extremism.

On Monday, Zubeidat Tsarnaev told CNN's Nick Paton Walsh that she plans to come to the United States if she can see her son -- despite pending shoplifting charges against her in Massachusetts.

The 19-year-old suspect is now at Federal Medical Center Devens, about 40 miles west of Boston. Authorities moved him there last week from Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

He had what appeared to be gunshot wounds to his head, neck, legs and hand when he was captured April 19 after a nearly 24-hour manhunt, according to the criminal complaint accusing him in the marathon blasts.

He is able to speak and has been interacting with staff, a prison spokesman said.

He has, however, apparently been less talkative since authorities read him his Miranda rights three days after his capture.

But the information the hein two sessions of questioning has produced good leads, a U.S. law enforcement official said. He has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction.

In other developments over the weekend:

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Signs of a radical Islamist

-- Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that he was comfortable with the handling of the initial questioning of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at a Boston hospital. A magistrate's decision to read him his constitutitional rights was "totally consistent with the laws that we have," Holder said. "We have a two-day period to question him under the 'public safety' exception. So I think everything was done appropriately, and we got good leads."

-- Authorities have finished combing a New Beford, Massachusetts, landfill for clues that may shed light on the bloody attack, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller. She wouldn't say whether investigators turned up anything. A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation had said investigators were looking for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's laptop computer. Tsarnaev led authorities to look there, the source said, and others who may have knowledge of the computer's whereabouts or may have played a role in disposing of it also provided leads that prompted the search.

-- The boat where Tsarnaev was captured in the backyard of a Watertown, Massachusetts, home has been taken to an undisclosed location to be thoroughly examined, according to the FBI.

Russia intercepted a communication between the mother of the accused Boston Marathon bombers and someone who may have been one of her sons "discussing jihad" in 2011, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation.

This source described the conversation as vague.

The Russians turned over the intercept to the FBI in the past few days, the official said.

This source was not aware of a reason for the delay and did not offer an opinion about whether it would have given the FBI enough reason to justify a closer look at Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the oldest of the two brothers suspected of killing three people near the finish of the marathon on April 15.

More than 260 people also were injured as a result of the two blasts, and 28 remain hospitalized after nearly two weeks.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was asked about the report while attending the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday.

"That's an ongoing matter," Holder said. "I can't really comment on that."

CNN has previously reported that the FBI has said that it conducted an investigation -- including an interview with Tsarnaev after Russia expressed concerns in 2011.

The FBI said at the time it found nothing to justify pursuing the matter further and that Russia did not respond to U.S .requests for more information.

The Russians also raised questions about Tsarnaev's mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, when they approached the U.S. about concerns regarding Tamerlan Tsarnaev, according to several sources. The mother's name was subsequently added to Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, database at the same time as her son's, an intelligence official said Thursday. TIDE is a collection of more than a half-million names of suspected terrorists maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center. 

The FBI interviewed the mother in 2011 as part of the investigation into her son. The case was closed after several months.

Holder also responded to criticism that the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was read his Miranda rights.

"The decision to Mirandize him was one that the magistrate made and that was totally consistent with the laws that we have," Holder said. "We have a two-day period to question him under the 'public safety' exception. So I think everything was done appropriately, and we got good leads."

Officials also believe Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier was killed by one or both of the brothers three days after the marathon attack, leading to the manhunt in which Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed.

In developments Monday, Russian special forces killed two members of a jihadist group during an early morning raid in Dagestan, a semi-autonomous republic in southern Russia, two Russian police sources told CNN.

One of those killed, Shakhrudin Askhabov, was a close associate of Abu Dujan, the islamist group's leader.

Analysis by CNN and the SITE Intelligence Group last week said Tsarnaev appears to have posted and removed a video from Abu Dujan. Videos linked to the group show how to prepare homemade explosives from almost anywhere.

No official connection has been made by investigators between the Tsarnaev brothers and the Abu Dujan group.

FBI: Search of dump tied to suspect ends

Since the pair of blasts turned celebratory cheers into screams of horror at the Boston Marathon's finish line, investigators keep working -- interviewing people and searching for evidence, even when it meant sifting through trash -- to find out why.

One of the most recent focuses of the probe has been at a landfill in New Bedford, Massachusetts, adjacent to the town where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev attended school at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

Authorities have finished combing the dump for clues that may shed light on the bloody attack, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller, who wouldn't say whether investigators turned up anything.

A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation had said investigators were looking for Tsarnaev's laptop computer.

Tsarnaev led authorities to look there, the source said, and others who may have knowledge of the computer's whereabouts or may have played a role in disposing of it also provided leads that prompted the search.

A boat in the backyard of a Watertown, Massachusetts, home where Tsarnaev was captured has been taken to an undisclosed location, to be thoroughly examined, according to the FBI.

Eimiller, the FBI spokeswoman, said the investigation remains open, with interviews and the search for evidence continuing.

The 19-year-old suspect is now at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Devens, the federal inmate medical center to which he was transferred from Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

He had what appeared to be gunshot wounds to his head, neck, legs and hand when he was captured April 19 after a nearly 24-hour manhunt, according to the criminal complaint accusing him in the marathon blasts.

Tsarnaev has been less talkative since authorities read him his Miranda rights three days after his capture.

But the information the teenager gave investigators in two sessions of questioning has produced good leads, a U.S. law enforcement official said. He has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction.

Photos: Galleries from the attack and aftermath

Family in Russia

The brothers' mother said Friday that she and her husband had left their home in Dagestan for another part of Russia.

Their father, Anzor Tsarnaev, had said he'd planned to travel to the United States. But that trip has been delayed indefinitely for health reasons.

The mother will not be flying to the United States, where she is wanted on felony charges of shoplifting and destruction of property.

The family lived in Massachusetts before Zubeidat Tsarnaev jumped bail after her arrest on the charges in 2012. The parents moved to Dagestan, a semiautonomous republic in southern Russia that year.

Suspects' mother describes her last conversation with her sons

Zubeidat Tsarnaev has denied the reality of the bombing. She believes it was fake. She said she has seen a video pushing the wild idea, and that there was no blood, that paint was used instead.

Dead Boston bomb suspect posted video of jihadist, analysis shows

Botched hijacking thwarts plans to head to New York

Three days after the marathon attack, and hours after authorities released images of the two suspects, they spontaneously decided to go to New York's Times Square to blow up their six remaining explosives, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told investigators.

But a botched carjacking spoiled the impromptu road trip, said Tsarnaev, whose account was outlined by New York's police commissioner.

Before forcing their way into a vehicle the night of April 18, the brothers shot dead a campus police officer at MIT, police said.

The vehicle they subsequently hijacked, a Mercedes sport utility vehicle, ran low on fuel, and they stopped at a service station, where the vehicle's owner escaped. Shortly thereafter, police picked up the trail of the SUV and pursued it. Authorities say the men threw bombs out the vehicle's window at them. The gunbattle and Tamerlan Tsarnaev's death followed.

Tragedy in Boston: How to help

Suspect's widow is assisting investigation, lawyer says

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, Ashleigh Banfield, Susan Candiotti, Paula Newton, Drew Griffin, Dave Alsup, Carol Cratty, Brian Todd and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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