The Associated Press

Congressmen Find Few Boston Attack Clues In Russia

MOSCOW — The head of a U.S. congressional delegation said Sunday that its meetings in Russia showed there was “nothing specific” that could have helped prevent the Boston Marathon bombings, but that the two countries need to work more closely on joint security threats.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who led the six-member delegation, described discussions with Russian parliament members and security officials as productive. Some of the meetings, he said, were made possible by American actor Steven Seagal.

Seagal, who attended the news conference in the U.S. Embassy, is well connected in Russia. He met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, and last week paid a visit to Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman who rules Chechnya, a province in southern Russia that has seen two brutal wars between federal troops and Chechen separatists since 1994.

Those wars spawned an Islamic insurgency that spread across the Caucasus region, including to neighboring Dagestan, now the center of the violence. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who is accused of carrying out the Boston bombings with his younger brother, spent six months in Dagestan last year. Investigators have been trying to determine whether he had contacts with the militants there.

Rep. Steve King said Russian security officials told the delegation they believed that Tsarnaev and his mother had been radicalized before moving to the United States in 2003. “I suspect he was raised to do what he did,” said King, a Republican from Iowa.

His account of the meeting at the FSB, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, was disputed by Rep. Steven Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, who said he understood that the radicalization took place much later, when the family was living in Boston.

Rohrabacher said a higher level of cooperation between the United States and Russia is necessary to keep people safe in both countries. “Radical Islam is at our throat in the United States, and is at the throat of the Russian people,” he said.

The congressman repeatedly thanked Seagal, who took credit for arranging the congressmen’s meeting at the FSB, and said it helped avoid the experience of past foreign trips when all of the meetings had been arranged by the U.S. Embassy.

“You know what we got? We got the State Department controlling all the information that we heard,” Rohrabacher said. “You think that’s good for democracy? No way!”

The action movie star escorted the congressmen on a trip Saturday to the site of a terrorist attack in the Caucasus town of Beslan, where militants seized a school in 2004 and took more than 1,000 people hostage, most of them children. More than 330 hostages died, most of them when federal troops stormed the school.

Seagal had invited the delegation to visit Chechnya, but the trip was called off in part because U.S. House rules would have prevented the congressmen from flying on his private plane, Rohrabacher said.

The Kremlin has given Kadyrov lavish funding and political carte blanche to fight terrorism since he came to power in 2005. Activists accuse him and his feared security forces of staggering abuses, including torture, kidnappings and murder.

“All these accusations are thrown around,” said Seagal, who was given a lavish welcome in Kadyrov’s palace. “Is there any evidence? Has he been indicted?”

Cohen said he had refused to go to Chechnya for these reasons. But Rohrabacher, who chairs the U.S. Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, said the United States should be more understanding of the threats facing Kadyrov and Putin.

“If you are in the middle of an insurrection with Chechnya, and hundreds of people are being killed and there are terrorist actions taking place and kids are being blown up in schools, yeah, guess what, there are people who overstep the bounds of legality,” he said.

While the rule of law is important, Rohrabacher added, “We shouldn’t be describing people who are under this type of threat, we shouldn’t be describing them as if they are Adolf Hitler or they’re back to the old Communism days.”

Rohrabacher and King were full of praise for Russian Orthodox Christian traditions after attending a service at Moscow’s main cathedral on Sunday morning. The cathedral became a rallying point for Putin supporters and the opposition alike last year when punk group Pussy Riot staged an impromptu protest against Putin’s merging of church and state, earning them worldwide notoriety and a two-year prison sentence for “hooliganism.”

“It’s hard to find sympathy for people who would do that to people’s faith,” King said.

The United States and European Union have condemned the jailing of the Pussy Riot members.

Rohrabacher, however, lamenting the “sinister way” U.S. politicians discuss Russia and Putin, said he wished they would have more appreciation for the changes that have taken place.

“Most of my friends in Congress don’t even know that the churches are open now,” he said.

The congressional delegation also included Michele Bachmann, but she made no public appearances and left before Sunday’s news conference. The Minnesota Republican arrived in Russia last week shortly after announcing that she would not seek reelection in 2014.

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  • dust truck

    Reagal has special expertise in Russian foreign policy in general and
    relevance to the Boston bombings investigation in particular, having
    once played a former Russian mobster named “Ruslan” in the 2009 thriller
    “Driven to Kill.” You may recall that the Tsarnaev brothers’ outspoken uncle is
    also named “Ruslan,” making Seagal’s involvement a no-brainer for the
    US congressional delegation.

  • public_servant_watch

    I considered the presence of media swarming Rep Keating at the airport upon his “return” from Russia in a Boston Globe piece to be suspect considering nothing about this trip could be found on any House Committee web site; with time the peculiarity of the situation just spun out of control.

    News Flash Steven Seagal is not an elected representative of the people and what he has to say regarding his meeting with Russian officials is irrelevant. Further speculation arose regarding the legitimacy of this trip to Russia when Bachmann began to have legal problems during the same timeline as this trip as well as the lacking photo of her with the other Representatives.

    The topper where a determination that the whole claim of this trip is bogus came with the statement “The congressman repeatedly thanked Seagal, who took credit for arranging the congressmen’s meeting at the FSB, and said it helped avoid the experience of past foreign trips when all of the meetings had been arranged by the U.S. Embassy” and then the representatives cited the State Department as an impediment to information gathering.

    Validation that the trip never happened came when the photo shopped pictures at the memorial emerged (your photoshop clue is the ceiling pipe as far right as possible and the sign below in one that is not present in the other).

    People we have a problem. These representatives of the people appear to be in collusion with the government instead of carrying the checks and balances they were elected to perform. We are under tyranny where the framing of these Muslims brothers and the media hogwash that followed flaring prejudice with the means to the end in ripping off the American people appears as Treason where actual radicals have been emboldened by the “Tales” of the FBI and their fabricated details of how these brothers independently carried a terrorist act .

    Excerpts of REALITY from Dagestan (link to entire interview above)

    Details of Tamerlan’s stay in the restive Russian republic remain sketchy. But I spoke to some of the leading Islamist figures who did spend time with Tamerlan last year.

    They belong to an organisation called The Union of the Just. It describes itself as a human rights group, cataloguing and campaigning against the abuses of the Dagestani authorities, in the fight against Islamism.

    There is a large overlap between membership of the Union of the Just – legal in Dagestan – and membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation which campaigns for a global caliphate, and which is proscribed in Russia.

    Magomedov (L) and Zukhumov met Tamerlan Tsarnaev several times

    The Union’s leader, Magomed Kartashov, is currently in jail. The deputy leader, Mohammed Magomedov, spoke to us in the Union’s offices, just after midday prayers. “Most people in Russia don’t believe the brothers are guilty,” he says with quiet assurance. “Objectively, there are many unanswered questions.”

    Next to Mohammed sits the older man who had just led those midday prayers. Zukhum Zukhumov is a philosophy professor with a tightly-cropped white beard and a courtly, almost quaint, command of English small-talk.

    He reverts to Russian to add his voice of scepticism to Mohammed’s. The bombing “was all so obviously staged,” he says. “It was organised with Moscow to show that Russia is not coping.”

    Professor Zukhumov says that, like Mohammed, he met Tamerlan Tsarnaev several times during Tamerlan’s six months in Dagestan.

    “He was tall, good-looking, and intelligent,” says Professor Zukhumov. “He read Turgenev and Dostoyevsky. It’s absurd to think he was inclined towards radical ideas.”

    In the same breath, though, Professor Zukhumov describes Tamerlan’s “naivety, his openness, his simple nature”.

    “I guess these kinds of people are useful to some sinister forces: very likely certain conditions were created, he was pushed on to that path. It was not all the Tsarnaev brothers’ own free will. It was a trap.” he says.

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