MANCHESTER, N.H. — FBI agents investigating the Boston Marathon bombing have repeatedly questioned Musa Khadzhimuratov, a Chechen refugee and former separatist fighter who says he had a passing social relationship with one of the two bombing suspects. They searched his family’s apartment in Manchester on Tuesday, scouring his computers, subjecting him to a polygraph, and taking a DNA sample.
The hours of FBI questioning in more than a dozen meetings — described by Khadzhimuratov and his wife, Madina, in an interview — illustrate the agency’s efforts to identify possible accomplices and test its theory that the suspects, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were radicalized and trained on the Web and acted on their own.
The homegrown radicalization theory received additional support Thursday, when officials confirmed a report by CBS News that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had scribbled an explanation for the bombing before his arrest on April 19.
After the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev after a police shootout, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hid inside a boat in Watertown, Mass., and wrote with a pen on the inside of the hull that the attack was retribution for the wars the United States waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to two law-enforcement officials. The note stated generally that an attack on one Muslim is an attack on all Muslims, one official said.
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Investigators believe Dzhokhar Tsarnaev thought he was dying when he scrawled the note. “He seemed to consider it a type of deathbed letter,” another official said.
The note could serve as important evidence against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. Some of his friends have said they believed Tamerlan must have brainwashed Dzhokhar into participating in the bombings that left three dead and injured more than 260.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been charged by federal prosecutors with using a weapon of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, some members and supporters of the small Chechen community in the United States fear that the FBI’s approach may be unduly influenced by Russian authorities who have an interest in using the Boston attack to smear their Chechen adversaries.
Fatima Tlisova, a reporter for the Voice of America who grew up in the Caucasus and worked there for years as a journalist, said many Chechens in this country were worried. “They are scared that they could be framed by the Russian FSB,” she said, using the initials for Russia’s Federal Security Service.
Khadzhimuratov, 36, said he understood why investigators would want to look at him. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, along with his wife and daughter, stopped by Khadzhimuratov’s apartment a few weeks before the bombing, the last of several encounters. Before coming to the U.S. in 2004, Khadzhimuratov was a bodyguard for Akhmed Zakayev, a prominent secular Chechen separatist leader who now lives in London.
But Khadzhimuratov said he had been rattled by the growing intensity of the FBI scrutiny, which has upset his wife, 32, and their children. He said the visit from Tamerlan Tsarnaev in March, when they drank tea and talked about family, was like their previous meetings.
He said he had no inkling that Tsarnaev had driven several times from his home in Cambridge, Mass., to New Hampshire to buy fireworks for the explosive powder used in the bombs or to shoot at a firearms range in Manchester.
“We have nothing to hide,” said Khadzhimuratov. “But they began very nice, saying they needed an expert on the North Caucasus. Now they treat me like a criminal.”
The FBI declined to comment.