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Quest For Answers Continues In Boston


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing has been moved from a Boston hospital to a federal prison medical center about 40 miles outside of the city. Law enforcement officials say that 19-year-old suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is sitting up and is alert and they continue to question him. Because after a week of revelations, answers to at least two key questions remain elusive: How were Dzhokhar and his older brother Tamerlan radicalized, and could the FBI have done more to head off the plot? NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston joins us. Dina, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: Let's start with what the FBI might have known about the Tsarnaev family before the bombing. They knew the name?

TEMPLE-RASTON: They knew the names, and more than that, U.S. officials say that the brothers' mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, had been put on a terrorist watch list about 18 months before the attack. Now, we already knew her older son, Tamerlan, had been put on that list. The new detail is that she was also on something called the Tide List. It's the lowest-level watch list in this country - there are about three-quarters of a million people on it. And basically it feeds other terrorist databases in the U.S. The mother was placed on the list after Russian officials contacted the U.S. in 2010. And they said that both she and her son might have ties to Islamist radicals in Russia. And the Russians were worried that the pair were a threat to Russia, not to the U.S., so they wanted the FBI to question them.

SIMON: So, we heard the FBI did question them. And, of course, we also - I think we know - that Tamerlan traveled to Russia last year; spent six months there, then came back to the U.S. What kind of other red flags did that raise and where?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it might have raised red flags if the Russians had provided additional information about Tamerlan and what he was doing in Russia. But U.S. officials told me that didn't happen. And since they'd already taken a hard look at Tamerlan and hadn't found anything, they said it was unrealistic, in the absence of any new information, to expect that they'd go back and question him after his trip to Russia. And there was nothing to indicate that they actually needed to go back. In fact, yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin came out and said his security services hadn't uncovered any contact between Tamerlan and radical Islamist groups in Russia when Tamerlan was there last year. And Putin said security officials have been closely tracking these groups, and if Tamerlan had trained in Russia, the security services would have known about it. Now, of course, he has a stake in saying that, to look like the security services are on top of these groups. But what we're hearing from U.S. officials is that after being in Russia themselves with investigators, they aren't finding any indication that Tamerlan was in a camp. Now, that could change, but that's where the investigation has taken them so far.

SIMON: And those investigators are the ones in Russia now who have interviewed the parents?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. They're talking to the parents to try to understand how the two brothers suspected in the bombings might have radicalized. Investigators are also looking for some sort of unexplained absence while Tamerlan was visiting his father. His father lives in Dagestan - it's part of Russia - and it's considered a hotbed of radical Islam and there are some training camps there. Officials think Dzhokhar was radicalized by his brother. What they're looking for now is what it was that made Tamerlan come to embrace radical Islam.

SIMON: Another thing, Dina, to end up the week - over the last couple of days, we've heard reports that the brothers were at least talking about, if not actively plotting, to attack targets in New York. Is that for sure?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, officials uncovered that from two sources. First, Dzhokhar, the younger of the two brothers, allegedly told the FBI that he and his brother had decided on the spur of the moment to take the bombs they had left, drive to New York and ignite them in Times Square. They heard something similar from the man who had his car carjacked by the two brothers a couple of days after the bombings. He said that they also were talking about going to New York when he was in the car.

SIMON: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Thanks so much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.