Tsarnaev suspected of links to Canadian jihadi and Russian rebel recruiter

Russian investigators became concerned about Tsarnaev after he had made contact with Islamic radicals Plotnikov and Nidal

Rebel fighter William Plotnikov reads the Koran in this undated photo released by Dagestani branch of the Russian Federal Security Service.

Rebel fighter William Plotnikov reads the Koran in this undated photo released by Dagestani branch of the Russian Federal Security Service.


The hunt for who or what radicalised alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev is focussing on two young men who were in the Russian region of Dagestan during his visit there last year, and who were killed by security forces shortly before his sudden return to the US.

Russian media reports say anti-terrorism investigators became concerned about Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shoot-out with Boston police four days after the April 15th bombings, when they discovered he had made contact with Islamic radicals William Plotnikov and Mahmoud Nidal.

Tsarnaev travelled from the US to Dagestan in January 2012, and for about six months stayed with relatives in the regional capital, Makhachkala, and in neighbouring Chechnya. A member of the antiextremism unit of Dagestan’s security forces told Novaya Gazeta newspaper that Nidal met Tsarnaev several times last April.

Nidal (18), who was of mixed Dagestani and Palestinian parentage, was suspected of being a recruiter for Islamic militants fighting Russian rule across the North Caucasus.

Tsarnaev was also seen at a Makhachkala mosque, which has a reputation for fundamentalist preaching. According to Novaya Gazeta , Tsarnaev had first come to the attention of Russian authorities in 2010, when his name was given to them by William Plotnikov.

Plotnikov (23) was a young man from a Russian family who emigrated to Canada in 2005. According to his father, he converted to Islam in 2009, quickly became radicalised and made his way to the North Caucasus.

Russian security services briefly detained Plotnikov in December 2010 and asked him to make a list of people he knew who, like him, had a Russian background but were living in North America or Europe. One of the names he gave was Tamerlan Tsarnaev, with whom he regularly exchanged messages on a web forum for young Muslims.

It is not known whether Plotnikov and Tsarnaev actually met or conversed, but the similarities between them are striking: they were young Russian emigres to North America with an interest in conservative Islam and the insurgency in the Caucasus, and both were accomplished boxers.

Furthermore, Plotnikov lived in Toronto, where Tsarnaev went to visit an aunt. Plotnikov’s contact list prompted the Russians to ask the US for information about Tsarnaev, but the FBI said it did not find evidence of “any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign”.

On May 19th, 2012, Nidal was killed by Russian security forces in Makhachkala. On July 14th, Plotnikov and seven other people died in a special forces raid on a house in the Dagestani village of Utamysh. “The Canadian”, as locals nicknamed him, was buried there.

Two days later, Tsarnaev abruptly left Makhachkala, flying back to the US via Moscow. He departed without collecting his new Russian passport, even though acquiring it was the main reason for his visit to Dagestan, according to his parents.

“It seems Tamerlan Tsarnaev came to Dagestan to link up with the militants. But it didn’t happen,” said Novaya Gazeta ’s source. “After Nidal and Plotnikov were wiped out, having lost his ‘contacts’, he got scared and cleared off.”