The Associated Press

Bomb Suspect Influenced By Mysterious Radical ‘Misha’

WASHINGTON — 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. Efforts over several days by The Associated Press to identify and interview Misha have been unsuccessful.

Tamerlan’s relationship with Misha could be a clue in understanding the motives behind his religious transformation and, ultimately, the attack itself. Two U.S. officials say he had no tie to terrorist groups.

Throughout his religious makeover, Tamerlan maintained a strong influence over his siblings, including Dzhokhar, who investigators say carried out the deadly attack by his older brother’s side, killing three and injuring 264 people.

“They all loved Tamerlan. He was the eldest one and he, in many ways, was the role model for his sisters and his brother,” said Elmirza Khozhugov, 26, the ex-husband of Tamerlan’s sister, Ailina. “You could always hear his younger brother and sisters say, `Tamerlan said this,’ and `Tamerlan said that.’ Dzhokhar loved him. He would do whatever Tamerlan would say.

“Even my ex-wife loved him so much and respected him so much,” Khozhugov said. “I’d have arguments with her and if Tamerlan took my side, she would agree: `OK, if Tamerlan said it.”‘

Khozhugov said he was close to Tamerlan when he was married and they kept in touch for a while but drifted apart in the past two years or so. He spoke to the AP from his home in Almaty, Kazakhstan. A family member in the United States provided the contact information.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a police shootout Friday. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged Monday with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill, and he could face the death penalty if convicted.

“Of course I was shocked and surprised that he was Suspect No. 1,” Khozhugov said, recalling the days after the bombing when the FBI identified Tamerlan as the primary suspect. “But after a few hours of thinking about it, I thought it could be possible that he did it.”

Based on preliminary written interviews with Dzhokar in his hospital bed, U.S. officials believe the brothers were motivated by their religious views. It has not been clear, however, what those views were.

As authorities try to piece together that information, they are touching on a question asked after so many terrorist plots: What turns someone into a terrorist?

The brothers emigrated in 2002 or 2003 from Dagestan, a Russian republic that has become an epicenter of the Islamic insurgency that spilled over from the region of Chechnya.

They were raised in a home that followed Sunni Islam, the religion’s largest sect. They were not regulars at the mosque and rarely discussed religion, Khozhugov said.

Then, in 2008 or 2009, Tamerlan met Misha, a slightly older, heavyset bald man with a long reddish beard. Khozhugov didn’t know where they’d met but believed they attended a Boston-area mosque together. Misha was an Armenian native and a convert to Islam and quickly began influencing his new friend, family members said.

Once, Khozhugov said, Misha came to the family home outside Boston and sat in the kitchen, chatting with Tamerlan for hours.

“Misha was telling him what is Islam, what is good in Islam, what is bad in Islam,” said Khozhugov, who said he was present for the conversation. “This is the best religion and that’s it. Mohammed said this and Mohammed said that.”

The conversation continued until Tamerlan’s father, Anzor, came home from work.

“It was late, like midnight,” Khozhugov said. “His father comes in and says, `Why is Misha here so late and still in our house?’ He asked it politely. Tamerlan was so much into the conversation he didn’t listen.”

Khozhugov said Tamerlan’s mother, Zubeidat, told him not to worry.

“`Don’t interrupt them,”‘ Khozhugov recalled the mother saying. “`They’re talking about religion and good things. Misha is teaching him to be good and nice.”‘

As time went on, Tamerlan and his father argued about the young man’s new beliefs.

“When Misha would start talking, Tamerlan would stop talking and listen. It upset his father because Tamerlan wouldn’t listen to him as much,” Khozhugov said. “He would listen to this guy from the mosque who was preaching to him.”

Anzor became so concerned that he called his brother, worried about Misha’s effects.

“I heard about nobody else but this convert,” Tsarni said. “The seed for changing his views was planted right there in Cambridge.”

It was not immediately clear whether the FBI has spoken to Misha or was attempting to.

Tsarnaev became an ardent reader of jihadist websites and extremist propaganda, two U.S. officials said. He read Inspire magazine, an English-language online publication produced by al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate.

Tamerlan loved music and, a few years ago, he sent Khozhugov a song he’d composed in English and Russian. He said he was about to start music school.

Six weeks later, the two men spoke on the phone. Khozhugov asked how school was going.

“I quit,” Tamerlan said.

“Why did you quit?” Khozhugov asked. “You just started.”

“Music is not really supported in Islam,” he replied.

“Who told you that?”

“Misha said it’s not really good to create music. It’s not really good to listen to music,” Tamerlan said, according to Khozhugov.

Tamerlan took an interest in Infowars, a conspiracy theory website. Khozhugov said Tamerlan was interested in finding a copy of the book “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the classic anti-Semitic hoax, first published in Russia in 1903, that claims a Jewish plot to take over the world.

“He never said he hated America or he hated the Jews,” Khozhugov said. “But he was fairly aggressive toward the policies of the U.S. toward countries with Muslim populations. He disliked the wars.”

One of the brothers’ neighbors, Albrecht Ammon, recently recalled an encounter in which Tamerlan argued about U.S. foreign policy, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and religion.

Ammon said Tamerlan described the Bible as a “cheap copy” of the Quran, used to justify wars with other countries.

“He had nothing against the American people,” Ammon said. “He had something against the American government.”

Khozhugov said Tamerlan did not know much about Islam beyond what he found online or what he heard from Misha.

“Misha was important,” he said. “Tamerlan was searching for something. He was searching for something out there.”

Associated Press writers Lara Jakes and Eileen Sullivan contributed to this report.

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  • Peter

    This is such an incredibly wild claim. Tomorrow, April 24th will mark the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, when Armenians, the first nation to adopt Christianity, will be commemorating the over 1,500,000 civilians, who were killed by radical Muslims because they refused to renounce their Christian faith. Nearly 99% of Armenia is Christian. It just seems like a lot of B.S. The story keeps changing. First, the uncle said that Tamerlan was just a loser and was not motivated by religion and now he is saying he was indeed motivated by religion, but we should not be looking into his 6 month trip to Dagestan, a Muslim extremist stronghold, but instead try to find a mysterious guy whose last name they do not even know and who became a radical Muslim, although his family comes from one of the longest lines of Christians, who have been the victims of Muslim extremism for centuries. All the while, family members keep pointing fingers at others.

  • disqus_9Pma4yEuKC

    …will not be surprised to learn that the Azeris bribed him to put this ridiculous information out there to make Armenians look bad, as they usually do. I bet this Misha character will never be found because there is no such person. In that case I say… follow the money.

  • K Naeim

    So it’s 2 guys against the sole superpower. What were they thinking?

  • Some Perspective

    There are hundreds of thousands of Armenian-Americans who belong to
    their Orthodox Christian church, tens of thousands of Armenian-American
    Catholics associated with Rome, thousands of Armenian-Americans who
    belong to numerous Protestant churches or the Mormon church. I know of
    Armenian-Americans who have embraced Judaism including members of my own
    Armenian-American family. Armenian-Americans who have converted to
    Islam in the Cambridge area can be counted on one hand. If this “Misha”
    truly exists, it should be quite easy to find him. The Associated Press
    is disseminating this story without having located this “Micha.” Be
    aware that family members of the Tsarnaev brothers are also claiming
    that they are innocent and were set up by the FBI and CIA.

  • Some Perspective

    The mother of the accused bombers has unequivocally stated that “Misha” was very knowledgeable about Islam but not a radical. Mr. Tsarni is employed by interests hostile to Armenians:

  • LianeSperoni

    It was not unusual to walk through Harvard Sq. 5 years ago and see a sign or 2 claiming 9/11 was an inside job.

  • disqus_weWvHpuUiS

    Misha is not an Armenian name, but Misak is.

  • hjc24

    Armenians generally have distinctive last names, ending in -ian. If this “Misha” exists in the Boston area, unless he has changed his name (and I agree that Misha is not a typical Armenian name), it should be relatively easy to find him. When I was in high school in the late 80s, a TV news crew was able to come to my classroom and interview one of my classmates, an Armenian-American, about the Armenian Genocide, having been able to track him down within a couple of hours based on his last name, pre-Internet. It should now take about 30 seconds to find this guy if he exists.

  • chaslie

    Wouldn’t surprise me if this Misha person (if he exists) is a U.S. government agent.

  • Barry Kort

    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.

    It’s remarkable how much power there is in a narrative account coming from an authority figure whom one is inclined to respect and believe.

    Every nation and every culture has its idiosyncratic narrative accounts through which impressionable young people become inculcated into the cultural values, beliefs, and practices of a nation, community, or culture.

    Here in the US we have many competing narratives, each of which attracts followers who buy into the values, beliefs, and practices associated with that cultural enclave.

    As a scientist, I find that almost all of these narratives are flawed, one way or another, misleading their followers into subtle misconceptions that are not supported by conscientious scientific review.

    Then again, I’m inculcated into the culture of science — a culture that is not widely respected or adopted, even today.

    • Jon Elkan

      Wow, you’re a really good writer! :)

  • Joe Wurzelbacher

    Misha, a slightly older Muslim convert? Misha, a heavyset bald man from Armenia with a long reddish beard? Misha, a person that recommended reading “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” for educatonal purposes? Misha, an individual sounds like he belongs in David Duke’s camp as opposed to “Radical Islam” without doubt. -Пусси Райот

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