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29 Apr, 2013 15:11

Slain Boston suspect Tsarnaev may have attended terrorism seminars in Georgia – reports

Slain Boston suspect Tsarnaev may have attended terrorism seminars in Georgia – reports

Georgia is embroiled in scandal as media reports suggest its previous government was involved in extremist training attended by the key suspect in the Boston bombings. The US foundation reported partially to finance seminars denies any involvement.

It is possible that terrorists had been trained in Georgia, but the investigation is underway. Let’s wait for its results. We will get a lot of new information, maybe even some shocking findings. There are suspicions that the authorities worked with terrorists and militants. If this information is confirmed, this will be shocking,” Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili said on April 28.

The comment came in response to allegations in Russian media that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the main suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, may have attended seminars allegedly sponsored by Georgian security officials and a US-based foundation. Some of the classes reportedly encouraged attendees to commit terrorist acts.

Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili (RIA Novosti/Alexander Imedashvili)

Russian daily Izvestia and TV station Russia 1 recently revealed that they obtained a report by Colonel Grigory Chanturia of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs’ main security service. According to the document, in summer 2012 the Kavkazsky Fund and the Washington, DC-based Jamestown Foundation held events for young residents of the North Caucasus. Tsarnaev, who stayed in Russia from January to June 2012, allegedly attended some of these events.

The Kavkazsky Fund has recruited North Caucasus residents for work serving the interests of the US and Georgia, Russian media reported. The Fund was set up in November 2008, shortly after the Georgia-Ossetia conflict, to “control processes taking place in the North Caucasus region,” according to Chanturia’s report.

The main aim of the Fund was allegedly to recruit young people in the North Caucasus to heighten instability and extremism in Russia’s southern region. Up to $2.5 million was allegedly allocated to finance the Fund as of January 2013. “

To finance the organization a monthly sum of about $20,000 was set up, ” Chanturia said.

The Russian media also reported that the Kavkazsky Fund has had close ties with the US Jamestown Foundation, an “independent, nonpartisan organization” whose mission is to inform and educate policymakers about events and trends of strategic importance to the US. Its board of directors once included former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Today, the Fund features Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel, who retired in 2006 after 30 years at the CIA. Riedel was a senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to four Presidents in the staff of the National Security Council at the White House, as well as a negotiator at several Arab-Israeli peace summits including Camp David and Wye River.

In 2007, the Jamestown Foundation reportedly held a seminar attended by militants loyal to Aslan Maskhadov, the leader of a Chechen separatist movement and president of the self-proclaimed ‘Republic of Ichkeria.’ During the Second Chechen War in 1999, he led a guerrilla resistance against the Russian army. He was killed in a special operation by security services in 2005.

The Jamestown Foundation categorically rejected the reports, calling them “entirely false and groundless.”

“Our organization has never had any contact with the Tsarnaev brothers, and we have no record or knowledge of either of them ever attending any Jamestown event in Washington, DC, or elsewhere,”
the organization said in a press release published on Friday.

Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said it had no knowledge of whether Tsarnaev had attended the seminars. “We don’t have such information, we haven’t heard anything of the kind, we don’t know,” Nino Giorgobiani, head of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs’ press service told RIA Novosti.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashavili said the previous Georgian government never recruited or trained groups of Chechens with the aim of infiltrating them into the Russian Federation. He learned of Ivanishvili’s comments on the issue while on a working visit to the US. Saakashvili said he was sure “America will not take Ivanishvili’s words seriously,” Izvestiya daily quoted him as saying.

President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili (RIA Novosti/Mikhail Mokrushin)

In 2011, Russian authorities asked the FBI to question Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen who had legal permanent resident status in the US, over concerns he was linked to Islamic extremists. The FBI confirmed that agents had interviewed him and other family members that year following Russia's request, but “did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign.

It was revealed that a misspelling of Tsarnaev’s name kept the FBI in the dark about his early 2012 trip to Russia: “He went over to Russia, but apparently, when he got on the Aeroflot plane, they misspelled his name,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said while speaking with Fox earlier this week. “So it never went into the system that he actually went to Russia.

Last week, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving younger brother implicated in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings, was charged with using weapons of mass destruction to kill people, a federal crime punishable by death, the Justice Department said. The twin bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon last Monday killed three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and wounded up to 264 people.

Runners continue to run towards the finish line of the Boston Marathon as an explosion erupts near the finish line of the race in this photo exclusively licensed to Reuters by photographer Dan Lampariello after he took the photo in Boston, Massachusetts, April 15, 2013. (Reutrers/Dan Lampariello)

The 19-year-old Dzhokhar reportedly gave written testimony in a hospital last Tuesday; his elder brother Tamerlan, 26, died on April 19 after a fierce gun battle with police. The suspect told interrogators that the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan spurred him and his brother to carry out the deadly bombings, US officials told the media.

Dzhokhar, a naturalized US citizen of Chechen origin, further took responsibility for his role in planting explosives near the marathon finish line last week; he had previously maintained that his brother Tamerlan was the mastermind of the terror plot.

Several friends of Tamerlan’s 24-year-old widow, Katherine Russell, who he persuaded to convert from Christianity to Islam, told National Public Radio that Tsarnaev often bullied and verbally abused his wife, calling her a “slut” and throwing pieces of furniture.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev (AFP Photo)