A mysterious friend known only as "Misha" to family members of Boston bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev began to influence the older brother Tamerlan in recent years, according to a new Associated Press report Tuesday.
Tamerlan, the once successful boxer and music enthusiast, gave up his loves for those pastimes and turned his passion to a strict strain of Islam and the study of American wars in the Middle East and conspiracy theories about 9/11, family members told the AP.
This mysterious Muslim is known only as "Misha," they said.
"Somehow, he just took his brain," said Tamerlan's uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, who recalled conversations with Tamerlan's worried father about Misha's influence. Efforts over several days by The Associated Press to identify and interview Misha have been unsuccessful.
Tamerlan's relationship with Misha could be a clue in understanding the motives behind his religious transformation and, ultimately, the attack itself. Two U.S. officials say he had no tie to terrorist groups.
Throughout his religious makeover, Tamerlan maintained a strong influence over his siblings, including Dzhokhar, who investigators say carried out the deadly attack by his older brother's side, killing three and injuring 264 people.
"They all loved Tamerlan. He was the eldest one and he, in many ways, was the role model for his sisters and his brother," said Elmirza Khozhugov, 26, the ex-husband of Tamerlan's sister, Ailina. "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.
"Even my ex-wife loved him so much and respected him so much," Khozhugov said. "I'd have arguments with her and if Tamerlan took my side, she would agree: `OK, if Tamerlan said it.'"
Khozhugov said he was close to Tamerlan when he was married and they kept in touch for a while but drifted apart in the past two years or so. He spoke to the AP from his home in Almaty, Kazakhstan. A family member in the United States provided the contact information.
The surviving 19-year-old suspect in the Boston Marathon twin bombings is still recovering from his injuries and actively cooperating with investigators, according to various reports.
Tsarnaev has told authorities that his older brother, Tamerlan, organized the attack to defend Islam, news reports say. The Washington Post reported this afternoon that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the motivation behind the bombings.
Dzhokar Tsarnaev was charged Monday in his hospital bed. But his condition is improving: The U.S. Attorney's Office for Massachusetts said this afternoon that the hospital had upgraded Tsarnaev's condition to "fair."
In another development, the Boston Globe is reporting that Tamerlan, who was killed during a shootout with law enforcement during the manhunt, is being eyed in a triple slaying that took place on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2011.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged by federal authorities with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction to kill for what they say was his role in bombing the Boston Marathon. He could face the death penalty if convicted in the plot that killed three and injured more than 200.
The criminal complaint cited surveillance-camera images of Tsarnaev dropping off a knapsack with one of the bombs and using a cellphone, perhaps to coordinate or detonate the blasts.
Separately, he also faces potential charges for the shooting and killing of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier.
CNN and AP report that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was shot multiple times, and suffered a throat injury, wrote to investigators that he and the elder Tamerlan were self-radicalized and carrying out a jihad against perceived enemies of Islam. Presumably, that would be America.
However, the interviews are preliminary, sources told CNN, and all accounts need to be checked by investigators.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's answers led authorities to believe he and his brother might have been motivated by a radical brand of Islam, but had no major terror connections, said U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly, reported the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, ABC News is reporting that the two brothers, both ethnic Chechens, are believed to have followed the preaching of al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki through the Internet.
Al-Awlaki was an American-born jihadist who became an imam in Yemen. The charismatic al-Awlaki was said to be a recruiter and planner for al-Quaeda and posted YouTube videos, which caused some to dub him the "bin Laden of the Internet". He was killed in a U.S. drone attack in 2011.
The Tsarnaev brothers are believed to have used instructional videos found on the Internet to plot the attack, and information from al Qaeda’s online magazine on how to construct the pressure cooker bombs that exploded.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev's wife is aiding investigators and was surprised by the allegations, her attorney told Reuters today.
"She is doing everything she can to assist with the investigation," lawyer Amato DeLuca told the news agency. "The report of involvement by her husband and brother-in-law came as an absolute shock to them all."
Injury toll rises
The count of people who were treated for injuries after the bombings has risen to 282, the Boston Globe reports.
That number is far higher than the initial estimate of 170. Authorities said that dozens of victims delayed seeking treatment for minor injuries they believed would get better on their own.
Fifty-one people are still hospitalized from the dual blasts, three of them in critical condition. At least 14 people lost all or part of a limb. Three people lost multiple limbs. Separately, it’s believed the Tsarnaevs also shot and killed MIT police officer Sean Collier during a manhunt.
Funeral, services for MIT officer
A grisly, unsolved triple slaying
The Boston Globe is reporting that Tamerlan Tsarnaev is being eyed in connection with a triple slaying in 2011.
The newspaper reports that the “gruesome” killings involved the slaying of three young men found with their throats slit inside an apartment in Waltham, Mass. Their bodies were sprinkled with marijuana.
Members of the victims’ families are asking police to look into the slayings since Tamerlan was a close friend of one of the deceased. The killings took place at or near the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. The bodies were found Sept. 12, 2011.
The Globe reports that Tamerlan, who was supposed to be a close friend of one of the victims, did not even attend the friend’s funeral. The friend was a martial arts instructor and trained at the same gym as Tamerlan.
The next steps in the bombing case
The next step in the younger Tsarnaev's prosecution is likely to be an indictment in which federal prosecutors could add new charges. State prosecutors have said they expect to charge Tsarnaev separately in the killing of Collier, the MIT officer.
After Tsarnaev is indicted, he will be arraignment in federal court and asked to enter a plea. Under federal law, as a defendant charged with a crime that carries a potential death penalty, he is entitled to at least one lawyer who is knowledgeable about the law in capital cases.
Federal Public Defender Miriam Conrad, whose office has been asked to represent Tsarnaev, filed a motion Monday asking that two death penalty lawyers be appointed to represent Tsarnaev, "given the magnitude of this case."
Reportedly, Tsarnaev's only spoken word Monday's was to answer "no" when asked if he could afford a lawyer. A probable cause hearing , at which prosecutors will spell out the basics of their case, is set for May 30.
In the criminal complaint against Tsarnaev, investigators said he and his brother each placed a knapsack containing a bomb in the crowd near the finish line of the 26.2-mile race. The FBI said surveillance-camera footage showed Dzhokhar manipulating his cellphone and lifting it to his ear just instants before the two blasts.
Among the details in the affidavit:
-Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had gunshot wounds to the head, neck, legs and hands when he was captured hiding out in a boat in a backyard in the Boston suburb of Watertown, authorities said.
-One of the brothers , it wasn't clear which one , told a carjacking victim during their getaway attempt, "Did you hear about the Boston explosion? I did that."
-The FBI said it searched Tsarnaev's dorm room at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth on Sunday and found BBs as well as a white hat and dark jacket that look like those worn by one of the suspected bombers in the surveillance photos the FBI released a few days after the attack.
The Associated Press contributed to this report