In the aftermath of the Boston bombings, the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the capture of his brother, Dzhokhar, Americans are still attempting to make sense of how and why a seemingly well-adjusted set of immigrants could covert to such an extremist ideology on American shores.
An extensive investigation conducted by the AP and published Tuesday explains that Tamerlan’s sudden interest in radical Islam could be attributed to the influence of a newer friend of Tamerlan’s named Misha. Attempts to identify the mysterious man have been unsuccessful so far.
According to family members such as Tamerlan’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, Misha was a recent convert to Islam and had extensive conversations with Tamerlan about radical Islam in the years leading up to the bombings. In fact, Tamerlan had given up boxing and stopped studying music due to Misha’s opinions, and also became an outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Beyond that, Tamerlan reportedly started to read more in-depth research on conspiracy theories linking the CIA to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"Somehow, he just took his brain," said Tamerlan's uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, who said that Tamerlan’s father had called Tsarni multiple times concerned about Misha’s influence over Tamerlan.
The AP spoke at length with Elmirza Khozhugov, 26, who is the ex-husband of Tamerlan's sister, Ailina. Khozhugov told them that Tamerlan was the ring-leader of his friends and family, and that they all adored and respected Tamerlan.
"They all loved Tamerlan. He was the eldest one and he, in many ways, was the role model for his sisters and his brother," Khozhugov said. "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.”
Khozhugov describes Misha as a slightly heavyset, older bald man with a long, reddish beard who was born in Armenia and had recently converted to Islam.
"I heard about nobody else but this convert," Tsarni said, referring to the conversations he had with the Tsarnaevs’ father, Anzor, about Tamerlan. "The seed for changing his views was planted right there in Cambridge."