Government officials who are speaking with reporters off-the-record today about what exactly Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is telling investigators from his hospital bed have suggested that the 19-year-old Boston bombing suspect and his elder brother, Tamerlan, were largely “self-radicalized” through Internet sites and their interpretation of U.S. actions in the Muslim world. While that may be true, the Associated Press does a little digging and discovers that the elder Tsarnaev may have had some help transitioning into the extremist his brother and others say he was:
In the years before the Boston Marathon bombings, Tamerlan Tsarnaev fell under the influence of a new friend, a Muslim convert who steered the religiously apathetic young man toward a strict strain of Islam, family members said.
Under the tutelage of a friend known to the Tsarnaev family only as Misha, Tamerlan gave up boxing and stopped studying music, his family said. He began opposing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He turned to websites and literature claiming that the CIA was behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Jews controlled the world. “Somehow, he just took his brain,” said Tamerlan’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, who recalled conversations with Tamerlan’s worried father about Misha’s influence.
The AP wasn’t able to track down the mystery man in question, and it remains unclear if the FBI is on the case or not. But based on the AP’s reporting—which is supported by on-the-record interviews with both Tamerlan’s uncle and former brother-in-law—Misha appears to have played a large role in Tamerlan’s apparent religious transformation. According to Tamerlan’s family, the elder Tsarnaev brother rarely discussed religion or visited a mosque until 2008 or 2009, when he met Misha, described in the AP’s words as “a slightly older, heavyset bald man with a long reddish beard” and “an Armenian native and a convert to Islam.” From then on, it was all Misha, all the time, as far as Tamerlan was concerned. “I heard about nobody else but this convert,” his uncle said. “The seed for changing his views was planted right there in Cambridge.”
From there, however, the narrative presented to the AP begins to catchup with the self-radicalization being suggested by federal sources. According to his brother-in-law, Tamerlan more recently turned to the Internet, where he took an interest in InfoWars—a conspiracy theory website that has since suggested that the Boston bombing was a “false flag” operation—and attempted to find a copy of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic work claiming a Jewish plot to take over the world. Federal officials, meanwhile, say that the brothers got instructions on how to build bombs from an online magazine published by al-Qaida.