Associates of Allakhverdov family puzzle over ‘Misha’ claims

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A red-bearded, Armenian-Ukrainian immigrant described by some relatives as a mentor to the elder suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings has told the New York Review of Books that he was not Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s teacher, and has been fully cooperating with the FBI.

Mikhail “Misha” Allakhverdov, 39, born in Baku, Azerbaijan of an Armenian Christian father and Ukrainian mother, moved with his family to the United States about 15 years ago, associates said.

He converted to Islam in the United States, he told the New York Review of Book’s Christian Carlyl, in an interview Sunday from his elderly parents’ West Warwick, Rhode Island home.

“I’ve been cooperating entirely with the FBI,” Allakhverdov told Carlyl. “I gave them my computer and my phone and everything I wanted to show I haven’t done anything. And they said they are about to return them to me. And the agents who talked told me they are about to close my case.”

Mikhail, in the brief interview, did not deny knowing Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the slain elder suspect in the April 15th Boston bombings, but said he had not seen him for a few years.

“I wasn’t his teacher,” Allakhverdov told Caryl. “If I had been his teacher, I would have made sure he never did anything like this.”

The Allakhverdov family–father Yuri and mother Lidiya, sons Sergei and Mikhail–moved to the United States in the 1990s from Ukraine where they lived for a few years after fleeing anti-Armenian violence in Azerbaijan. Sergei, an historian, was seeking a publisher for an atlas of hand-drawn maps of the ancient world, he told an Armenian diaspora newspaper in 1999.

Mikhail Allakhverdov is listed with his brother Sergei as an officer of a Massachusetts nonprofit corporation called the Educational Organization for Improvements in Historical Studies, Inc. A telephone number listed for the company at a Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts address was no longer in service Monday.

Gennady Napadensky and Victoria Poupko, a Massachusetts couple from the former Soviet Union, who are listed as professional associates of Mikhail’s older brother Sergei, told Al-Monitor in a phone interview Monday that as far as they knew, Sergei was an atheist and the family was of Armenian Christian descent. Mikhail, they thought, converted to Islam after his immigration to the United States.

Gennady Napadensky told Al-Monitor he met Sergei about eight years  ago when he was looking for an historian and found him through a Russian bookstore in Brookline, Massachusetts.  They formed a company that produces digital interactive maps.

Victoria Poupko, Napadensky’s spouse and a former Northeastern University math professor who has worked as a human rights activist on behalf of persecuted ethnic minorities from the former Soviet Union, said she believes she met Mikhail Allakhverdov only once several years ago.

An activist on behalf of Chechen refugees, Poupko, of Russian Jewish descent, said she saw Mikhail in a car with a Chechen once, but she did not know who it was.

Azerbaijan brutally expelled ethnic Armenians like the Allakhverdov family after Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh voted in a referendum in 1988 to join Armenia. Subsequently, many Chechens fled to Azerbaijan in the 1990s during the Russian wars against Chechen unrest, Poupko said.

Sergei Allakhverdov-Amatuni (as the brother spells his names in some official listings) is also listed as a director of a Massachusetts non-profit, the Transitional Assembly for Peace and Democracy in Chechnya, Inc. Registered in 2003, the group lists as its president Salman Masayev (or Musayev), who has subsequently appeared in media reports as the deputy head of the Caucasus Muslims Organization, based in Baku, Azerbaijan. 

Nadezhda Banchik, a California-based human rights activist for persecuted former Soviet minorities who is a friend of Poupko’s, told Al-Monitor in a phone interview Monday that she does not know the Allekhverdovs, though she is listed with Sergei Allekhberdov-Amatuni as an officer in the Transnational Assembly. (She thought the group’s listed president Musayev might have been a Harvard student of Chechen descent who later returned to the region. Poupko later said she met Sergei through Musayev, who introduced him as a doctor-professor.)

Banchik noted, in a telephone interview, that the Boston Marathon bombings occurred a few days after the US publication of the Magnitsky list, and suggested that it was strange, if Russia had suspicions about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, that it did not arrest him when he was there for six months in 2012. Similarly, Russia has reportedly shared with the US in the past week alleged recordings of intercepted  phone calls from 2011, in which the suspects’ mother Zubeidat Tsarnaeva is alleged to have “vaguely” discussed jihad. But Zubeidat returned to Dagestan, in southern Russia, in 2012 from where she has given dozens of interviews in recent weeks. Russian authorities have apparently not found her of enough concern to detain her, Banchik noted.

The Russian-speaking diaspora in Boston, much of it Jewish, turned far less sympathetic to the plight of the Chechens after the Beslan school massacre and Moscow theater bombings, said Vladimir Napadensky, who is listed as an associate in the map company his father and Sergei created. He said he did not know Mikhail, and said of Sergei, only, “he makes maps.”

Sergei Allakhverdov described his family’s complicated ancestral geography in a 1999 interview with an Armenian American newspaper about his atlas of maps, for which he was seeking a publisher.

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Former CIA officer: ‘Absurd’ to link uncle of Boston suspects, Agency

20130427-162019.jpgRetired CIA officer Graham Fuller confirmed to Al-Monitor Saturday that his daughter was previously married to an uncle of the suspects in the Boston Marathon attacks, but called rumors of any links between the uncle and the Agency “absurd.”

Graham Fuller’s daughter, Samantha A. Fuller, was married to Ruslan Tsarnaev (now Tsarni) in the mid-1990s, and divorced in 1999, according to North Carolina public records. The elder Fuller had retired from the agency almost a decade before the brief marriage.

“Samantha was married to Ruslan Tsarnaev (Tsarni) for 3-4 years, and they lived in Bishkek for one year where Samantha was working for Price Waterhouse on privatization projects,” Fulller, a former CIA officer in Turkey and vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council, told Al-Monitor by email Saturday. “They also lived in our house in [Maryland] for a year or so and they were divorced in 1999, I believe.”

“I, of course, retired from CIA in 1987 and had moved on to working as a senior political scientist for RAND,” Fuller continued.

Fuller said his former son in law was interesting but homesick, and moved back to Central Asia after the divorce.

“Like all Chechens, Ruslan was very concerned about his native land, but I saw no particular involvement in politics, [although] he did try to contact other Chechens around,” Fuller continued. “He also felt homesick and eventually went back to Central Asia after the divorce. His English was shaky. (We always spoke Russian together).”

A story on the Internet implying “possible connections between Ruslan and the Agency through me are absurd,” Fuller said.

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US charges Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston Marathon bombing


The United States on Monday charged Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, with perpetrating the bombings of the Boston Marathon last week.

Tsarnaev, recovering from gunshot wounds sustained in a police chase that killed his brother and accused accomplice, was formally charged and advised of his rights in his Boston Beth Israel-Deaconess hospital bed, by US Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler. In the presence of three federal defense attorneys,  Tsarnaev nodded affirmatively when asked by the judge if he understood the charges and his rights, and said “no,” when asked if he could afford an attorney, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Tsarnaev, a naturalized American of Chechen descent who has been in the United States since he was 9 years old, was charged with the use of a weapon of mass destruction, and malicious destruction of property resulting in death, according to the 10-page federal complaint (.pdf). The charges, if proven, carry a penalty of life imprisonment or, if a jury decides, the death penalty. Additional charges could be added as the investigation proceeds.

The twin bombs, made of pressure cookers and dropped in backpacks near the finish line of the marathon April 15th, killed three people, including an 8 year old boy, and wounded over 200, some of whom were severely maimed.

Reports over the weekend pieced together from interviews with relatives and associates of the Tsarnaev family in North America and Dagestan, Russia, described Dzhokhar as a smart, seemingly well-adjusted and popular teenager, a former captain of his Cambridge high school wrestling team, who was until last week a college sophomore at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. However, his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, killed in a police shoot out early Friday, had a more troubling path and was described as growing increasingly alienated and extreme. Once a talented boxer, Tamerlin quit the sport, dropped out of community college in 2008, got arrested for assaulting a girlfriend in 2009, and was thrown out of his Cambridge mosque twice in the past year for outbursts denouncing the sermons as being “un-Islamic,” the Boston Globe reported.

In 2012, Tamerlin traveled to Dagestan, Russia for six months, as well as to Chechnya, to visit relatives, according to media interviews given by his father, Aznor Tsarnaev. Whether Tamerlin possibly made contact with jihadi radicals on that trip is a focus of US terrorism investigators now. Other accounts, including from a paternal uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, suggest Tamerlan’s radicalization began in Boston, starting years earlier.

Though accounts generally describe Tamerlan as the presumed ringleader of the plot and Dzholkhar as the loyal brother dragged into it, the federal complaint offers a chilling description of Dzholkhar’s behavior on videos the FBI obtained from the scene of the marathon bombings.

After the first explosion went off on Boston’s Boylston street last Monday afternoon, “virtually every head [in the crowd] turns to …that direction in apparent bewilderment and alarm,” the affidavit states.

But Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, “virtually alone among the individuals in front of the restaurant, appears calm,” the affidavit continues. “He walks away without his knapsack… Approximately 10 seconds later, an explosion occurs in the location where Bomber 2 [Dzhokhar] had placed his knapsack.”

Meantime, the FBI said Saturday that in early 2011 it interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and members of the family at the request of a foreign government, subsequently identified as Russia. The Russian government said it had information that Tamerlan had become “a follower of radical Islam” and “had changed drastically since 2010” as he “prepared to leave the United States and… join unspecific underground groups” in Russia, according to the FBI press release.

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