KIZLYAR, Russia — It’s not every day that a well-dressed American shows up in this town, where shaggy cows meander over deeply rutted roads, so people remember Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Among the things that made the young visitor stand out, two acquaintances recalled Thursday, was his avid interest in waging jihad.
“He already had jihad views when he came. I think because he was Chechen, he was rooting for his homeland,” Zaur M. Zakaryayev, 29, a member of a Salafi advocacy organization, the Union of the Just, said Thursday. “When he got here he was surprised at the conditions. I think he expected to find a full-fledged war, that one people was fighting with another.”
These new accounts out of Kizlyar, where Tsarnaev spent time with a cousin who is a prominent Salafi Islamist leader, have begun to flesh out a picture of what he did during his six months in Russia last year.
On Sunday agents from the Federal Security Service, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, interrogated Tsarnaev’s cousin, who is in police custody, asking whether he had impressed the young man with “extremist” views, his lawyer said.
The cousin, Magomed Kartashov, told them it was the other way around. In interviews, several young men here agreed, saying that Kartashov had spent hours trying to stop Tsarnaev from “going to the forest,” or joining one of the militant cells scattered throughout the volatile region, locked in low-level guerrilla warfare with the police.
“Magomed explained to him at length that violent methods are not right,” Zakaryayev said.
Tsarnaev’s friends in Kizlyar may be responsible for a crucial change in his thinking. When he left, he was no longer focused on the local grievances that fueled the fighting against the police — but instead broader issues in the Islamic world, including the effect of U.S. and Russian policy in the Middle East.
Rasim B. Ibadamov, 30, said by last summer Tsarnaev was taking steps that suggested that he had let go of the idea of joining the underground — for instance, applying to renew his Russian passport. “What I can say is there was the impression that Tamerlan listened to Magomed and to some extent, he changed,” Ibadamov said. “His behavior changed. He started to read more, and to read different books. In general, as far as I understand, he changed his views.”
Tsarnaev’s body was interred Thursday in an undisclosed location, the police in Worcester, Mass. said in a statement. The announcement represented an end to a grim effort to find a place to bury the bombing suspect, who was shot by the police and run over by his brother, Dzhokhar, after the two tried to elude the authorities during a chase that began April 18.
A long list of cemeteries had refused to accept the body.
“A courageous and compassionate individual came forward to provide the assistance needed to properly bury the deceased,” read a statement published on the police department’s website.
Tsarnaev’s relationship with Kartashov, which was first reported by Time magazine on Wednesday, may help explain his mentality as he returned to the United States. Kizlyar is one of the most dangerous spots in Dagestan’s insurgency, in which militants kill scores of policemen every year and counterterrorism raids can leave neighborhoods in ruins. Kartashov once served as a police inspector there, but he left the force around 10 years ago and has since become a charismatic Salafi leader.
His group protests police counterterrorism tactics in the region, which are often brutal, and burned U.S. and French flags after the release of the anti-Islam YouTube film “Innocence of Muslims.” The authorities in Dagestan — who monitor legal Salafi organizations for links to militants — have viewed Kartashov’s activity with mounting suspicion. He was arrested two weeks ago, after police stopped a wedding convoy that was flying black flags with Arabic phrases.
“To all our questions there was only one answer: ‚“We only have two flags — the flag of the Russian Federation, and the flag of the republic of Dagestan. Do not raise any other flag,” Ibadamov said. Kartashov now faces a possible 10-year sentence for resisting police.
Ibadamov said that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s parents had first turned to Kartashov for counseling during earlier trips to Russia, and that when Tsarnaev came to Russia last year they wanted him to follow suit.
“I understand that they had a kind of Islamic vacuum,” he said. “They turned to Magomed as a knowledgeable person. Magomed was happy about this; he explained what Islam was, what his views were. And the father was complaining that Tamerlan was sort of a tough kid, a boxer.”