Tamerlan Tsarnaev Caught On Russian Wiretap

Russian security services apparently caught deceased Boston Marathon bomb Tamerlan Tsarnaev speaking with his mother about jihad:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Russian authorities secretly recorded a telephone conversation in 2011 in which one of the Boston bombing suspects vaguely discussed jihad with his mother, officials said Saturday, days after the U.S. government finally received details about the call.

In another conversation, the mother of now-dead bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was recorded talking to someone in southern Russia who is under FBI investigation in an unrelated case, officials said.

The conversations are significant because, had they been revealed earlier, they might have been enough evidence for the FBI to initiate a more thorough investigation of the Tsarnaev family.

As it was, Russian authorities told the FBI only that they had concerns that Tamerlan and his mother were religious extremists. With no additional information, the FBI conducted a limited inquiry and closed the case in June 2011.

Two years later, authorities say Tamerlan and his brother, Dzhohkar, detonated two homemade bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring more than 260. Tamerlan was killed in a police shootout and Dzhohkar is under arrest.

In the past week, Russian authorities turned over to the United States information it had on Tamerlan and his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva. The Tsarnaevs are ethnic Chechens who emigrated from southern Russia to the Boston area over the past 11 years.

Even had the FBI received the information from the Russian wiretaps earlier, it’s not clear that the government could have prevented the attack.


It was not immediately clear why Russian authorities didn’t share more information at the time. It is not unusual for countries, including the U.S., to be cagey with foreign authorities about what intelligence is being collected.

Nobody was available to discuss the matter early Sunday at FSB offices in Moscow.

Jim Treacy, the FBI’s legal attache in Moscow between 2007 and 2009, said the Russians long asked for U.S. assistance regarding Chechen activity in the United States that might be related to terrorism.

“On any given day, you can get some very good cooperation,” Treacy said. “The next you might find yourself totally shut out.”

Zubeidat Tsarnaeva has denied that she or her sons were involved in terrorism. She has said she believed her sons have been framed by U.S. authorities.

But Ruslan Tsarni, an uncle of the Tsarnaev brothers and Zubeidat’s former brother-in-law, said Saturday he believes the mother had a “big-time influence” as her older son increasingly embraced his Muslim faith and decided to quit boxing and school.

After receiving the narrow tip from Russia in March 2011, the FBI opened a preliminary investigation into Tamerlan and his mother. But the scope was extremely limited under the FBI’s internal procedures.

The FBI has been under criticism for the better part of a week now for allegedly not following through on the tips that the Russians had passed on regarding Tsarnaev, but it’s unclear exactly what they could have done. Based on reports, it’s clear that the Russians didn’t give a whole lot of detail about Tsarnaev back in 2011. Now we know that they had recordings that may or may not have been justification for the FBI to take further action and didn’t disclose them until after the bombings. This makes me wonder exactly what the Russians motives are, and whether there’s anything the FBI could have done to prevent these attacks.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Intelligence, Law and the Courts, Terrorism, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    The FBI’s averages are very good(*), and we can’t expect perfection.

    * – including the Tamerlan-types they duped with phony bombs and etc.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I agree with john personna. We should se whether we missed something, we should investigate to find out whether we can improve our procedures, but can we at least take a minute to say that the FBI has obviously done a hell of a good job?

  3. CSK says:

    All the law enforcement agencies involved probably deserve credit for the way they handled this. It hasn’t been widely publicized, but a number of cops were injured–not badly–during the police chase because the brothers were flinging pipe bombs out of their car (actually the hijack victim’s car). And there were a lot of bullets flying around. But not one civilian was injured after the events of Monday. Amazing in view of the fact that Cambridge and Watertown had become, in essence, war zones.

  4. Ben says:


    Police are civilians too. They’re not military. Sorry to nitpick, but that wording always bothers me because it reinforces cops’ increasingly militaristic mindset, and people’s acceptance of it.

  5. CSK says:


    Sure. I was using the locution they themselves use sometimes. I was going to use the word “bystander,” but it didn’t seem accurate in this case, since not that many people were standing around waiting to get hit.

    A fair number of people in different professions use the word “civilian”–usually joking–to describe anyone who isn’t one of “them.” I’ve even heard some academics use it. I’m not too worried about them becoming militarized.

  6. Mikey says:

    This makes me wonder exactly what the Russians motives are

    When in doubt, always assume the Russians’ motive is to poke us in the eye.

  7. john personna says:


    Well, words are defined by usage. I think modern usage is that civilians are not armed by the government. Thus a strapped wildlife officer would not be a “civilian” in a dispute.

  8. matt says:

    @CSK: Almost all the bullets flying around were from the police who are civilians. There’s already a big enough problem with the police having an US (non civies) vs THEM (the civies) mentality that we don’t need to be re-enforcing it.