Last year, when Tamerlan Tsarnaev spent six months in the Russian region of Dagestan, he had a guide with an unusually deep knowledge of the local Islamist community: a distant cousin named Magomed Kartashov. Six years older than Tsarnaev, Kartashov is a former police officer and freestyle wrestler””and one of the region’s most prominent Islamists.
In 2011 Kartashov founded and became the leader of an organization called the Union of the Just, whose members campaign for sharia law and pan-Islamic unity in Dagestan, often speaking out against U.S. policies across the Muslim world. The group publicly renounces violence. But some of its members have close links to militants; others have served time in prison for weapons possession and abetting terrorism””charges they say were based on fabricated evidence. For Tsarnaev, these men formed a community of pious young Muslims with whom he could discuss his ideas of jihad. Tsarnaev’s mother, Zubeidat, confirmed that her son is Kartashov’s third cousin. The two met for the first time in Dagestan, she said, and “became very close.”
Since April 19, when Tsarnaev and his younger brother Dzhokhar were publicly identified as being the key suspects in the bombing of the Boston Marathon, investigators have been trying to work out how they were radicalized to the point of wanting to kill and main people in the United States, the country the brothers had called home for much of their lives. (Tsarnaev was killed during a manhunt for the two men in Boston; his younger brother was shot but survived and has been charged with acts of terrorism including using a weapon of mass desctruction resulting in death. If convicted he could face the death penalty.) Much of the investigators” attention has focused on Tsarnaev’s visit to Dagestan in 2012. It appears that investigators have only recently begun exploring Tsarnaev’s links to his cousin.
On May 5, three agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service, the agency known as the FSB, interrogated Kartashov for the first time about the Boston bombings, according to his lawyer, Patimat Abdullaeva. The FSB agents were interested in whether Kartashov and Tsarnaev had ever discussed Islamic radicalism, Abdullaeva says.
Kartashov told them that they had, but claimed that Tsarnaev was the one trying to “pull him in to extremism,” says the lawyer, who spoke to Kartashov soon after the interrogation. (It was impossible to ask Kartashov about this directly; he has been in jail since April 27 after a brawl with police in northern Dagestan, and prison officials denied TIME”s requests to visit him or have him answer questions in writing. His lawyer agreed to pass a reporter’s questions to him in jail.) In recounting her client’s replies, the lawyer said: “Kartashov tried to talk [Tsarnaev] out of his interest in extremism.”…