At a Friday congressional hearing, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will begin what’s sure to be the lengthy process of lawmakers diving into the Islamic terror threat from Chechnya and Dagestan.
But disturbing ties between the U.S. and Islamic radicals in the Caucasus region were known to authorities long before Tamerlan Tsarnaev was referred to the FBI by Russia and let go for what was deemed a lack of proof that he posed a threat to America.
The FBI’s Operation Blackbear back in 2001 identified people in the U.S. who were funding Islamists in Chechnya, including three individuals who met with Osama bin Laden.
In 2010, the former leader of an Islamic charity, the Ashland, Ore.-based Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, was convicted of two felonies — filing a false tax return and conspiring to file a false tax return — in relation to the group’s effort to shuffle money to Islamic militants in Chechnya with an obscured money trail. Pirouz Sedaghaty faced a maximum of eight years behind bars but was sentenced to 33 months in prison in 2011.
Al-Haramain, which had its headquarters in Saudi Arabia, was disbanded by the Saudi government and labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. The feds caught on to a $150,000 donation from an Egyptian via London that the organization told the IRS was used to purchase a building for prayer in Missouri but really was carried from Oregon to Saudi Arabia, where the funds were ultimately smuggled into Chechnya.
“The FBI‘s role in battling crime takes many forms,” said Arthur Balizan, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, at the time. “Our agents and our partners have to aggressively chase the evidence down whatever path we find… in this case, a trail of cash leading half way around the world.”
Also in 2010, Abdul Tawala Ibn Ali Alishtari was sentenced to 121 months behind bars for charges of terrorism financing and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the financing of terrorist training in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The New York bank underwriter was busted by trying to transfer money through an undercover officer.
During meetings with the undercover officer, Alishtari offered to introduce him to a “fire-breathing” imam member of the Muslim Brotherhood who worked as a “recruiter” for the Islamists in Bosnia and Chechnya. That imam had the worldview that “the axis of the Islamic world is about Jerusalem and defeating the Jews.”
The Islamic charity Global Relief Foundation, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2006, “was actually a conduit for funding Islamic fighters engaged in battle throughout the world, including Chechnya.”
In August 2003, Enaam Arnaout, chief executive officer of the Benevolence International Foundation, another Islamic charity front, was sentenced to 11 years in prison on racketeering conspiracy charges for funneling donations to fighters in Chechnya.
These are just some of the cases linking American networks and Chechen Islamists in a pattern of support that undermines Vice President Joe Biden’s assertion today that the Tsarnaev brothers were simply “two twisted perverted cowardly knock-off jihadis here in Boston.”
“The truth is on every frontier, terrorism as a weapon is losing,” Biden insisted. “It is not gaining adherents.”
Not that the administration, which is juggling the failure of intelligence cooperation with its meme that terror networks are wilting under President Obama’s tenure, was even on the same page about the Boston Marathon attack Wednesday.
“We just had a young person who went to Russia, Chechnya, who blew people up in Boston. So he didn’t stay where he went, but he learned something where he went and he came back with a willingness to kill people,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in Belgium. “I think the world has had enough of people who have no belief system, no policy for jobs, no policy for education, no policy for rule of law, but who just want to kill people because they don’t like what they see.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Kerry was just “speaking generally about the nature of terrorism” in his comments about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s 2012 trip.
“The State Department has clarified that Secretary Kerry was not reflecting any new information or conclusion about the individuals involved,” Carney said. “…This investigation is proceeding apace, and we’re still in the phase of getting questions answered. We’re not making final assessments.”
It was revealed today that six months after warning the FBI about Tsarnaev, Russia’s Federal Security Service tipped off the CIA about extremist ties of the Chechen immigrant in September 2011.
“The CIA then nominated him for inclusion in the watchlisting system and, given his status as a U.S. person, shared the information with the appropriate Federal Departments and Agencies specifying that Tamerlan may be of interest to them,” an anonymous U.S. intelligence official said in a statement Wednesday.
Tsarnaev was added to a roll of more than half a million people in a listing that expired after one year.
“The CIA shared all the information provided by the foreign government including two possible dates of birth, his name and a possible name variant as well. No information was incorrectly entered in the watchlisting system, all the information was shared precisely as the foreign government provided it,” the official said.
While Tsarnaev’s family claims the brothers were brainwashed by a mysterious Armenian convert at the mosque named “Misha,” House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said today “there’s some concern” that Tsarnaev was trained in Chechnya.
“The reason I say that is because the explosive devices that he used were highly sophisticated devices,” he said on CNN.
McCaul also indicated that his committee is next in line for congressional hearings — “so we can find out, number one, how did this happen, what went wrong, and then how can we fix it to prevent it from happening again.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) warned investigators not to buy too easily into Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s hospital-bed claims that the brothers were self-radicalized by watching online videos and had no connection with any outside terrorist groups.
“I don’t see how we can accept that,” King said on CNN. “…I don’t see why he would be giving up any accomplices he may have or talk about any connections his brother may have had in Chechnya or Russia, so I think to me, what he is saying is such a small part of the overall picture.”
“…I mean, you hear that the older brother is involved in radical activities from the Russians, plus you find out he’s reading Inspire magazine, plus you find out he’s being inspired by radical imams, then to me that’s all we factored in as to the level of surveillance that he should receive.”