WEST WARWICK, R.I. — The mysterious “Misha,” a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev described by the bombing suspect’s relatives as a zealous conservative Muslim who helped radicalize Tamerlan, has been found in this Rhode Island town.
But Mikhail “Misha” Allakhverdov told the New York Review of Books Sunday that he had nothing to do with the bombings, that he did not steer Tamerlan toward violence, and that he had not seen him since he moved away from Boston about three years ago.
“If I had been his teacher, I would have made sure he never did anything like this,” Allakhverdov, 39, told the publication.
The Review of Books published a brief account of its interview with Allakhverdov on its blog Sunday night, saying the item was part of a longer piece on Boston’s Russian and Chechen community to be published in a forthcoming edition of the biweekly journal.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died after a confrontation with police in the early morning hours of April 19. Police say they were subduing him after a shootout when his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, ran him over in a desperate escape. Dzhokhar was captured by police later the same day and is facing federal charges. The two are accused of planting two bombs that exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, killing three people and wounding 264. They’re also accused of killing an MIT police officer as they went on the run just hours after their pictures were released by authorities on April 18.
Allakhverdov told the Review he was cooperating fully with law enforcement and that he had nothing to hide.
“I gave them my computer and my phone and everything, I wanted to show I haven’t done anything,” Allakhverdov told the publication. “And they said they are about to return them to me. And the agents who talked told me they are about to close my case.”
This seems consistent with an Associated Press report Saturday that the FBI, according to two US officials, had found no evidence that the man they believed to be “Misha” was connected to the bombing.
The Review said its interview with Allakhverdov was conducted in Russian at the apartment he shares with his elderly parents. They were present for the interview, the Review said, as was Allakhverdov’s American girlfriend.
Reporters today began gathering outside the modest three-story clapboard and brick building hours after the Review posted its report. No one answered the phone or the door, and the thick curtains remained drawn.
A man who identified himself as Richard Nicholson, a West Warwick attorney, spoke briefly with reporters after visiting the family. Nicholson said he represents Allakhverdov’s parents. He used the father’s first name, Yuri, when speaking with reporters.
“This is a trying time for Yuri and his family,’’ Nicholson said. Yuri is obviously nervous and his wife is nervous about all the attention that they have been getting.’’
He said he told the couple that the extraordinary media attention they are now receiving will fade.
“What I have told them to do is to go about their normal activities. To date they’ve answered all the questions that have been asked of them by the authorities,’’ he said. “These are two elderly individuals — mom has a heart condition, and she is under a lot of stress from all the attention.’’
A couple later identified as Mikhail’s parents left from the back door and drove off in an older model red Subaru sedan.
The husband was short with a medium build; his wife had long ash-colored hair swept up in a clip. Both barely looked up, looking pained. They spoke not a word to the small clutch of reporters who came trotting up to them.
The Review said Allakhverdov’s mother is Ukrainian and his father is an Armenian Christian. The publication said the family had been living in Azerbaijan but moved to the United States in the early 1990s to escape the persecution of Armenian Christians there.
A neighbor who declined to give her name said Mikhail Allakhverdov did not seem to live in the apartment with his parents. She said Allakhverdov’s girlfriend does not wear a hijab, or headscarf, which is commonly worn by observant Muslim women. She said he lived in Boston but came back several years ago to live with his parents for a time following a divorce.
A former brother-in-law of the Tsarnaev brothers, in an interview with the AP from Kyrgyzstan last week, described “Misha” as a red-bearded Armenian convert who exerted enormous influence over Tamerlan. Under his teaching, he said, according to the AP, Tamerlan gave up music, took an interest in conspiratorial websites, and became increasingly opposed to US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The AP reported that Tamerlan’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, recalled speaking with Tamerlan’s father about his concerns regarding Misha’s influence: “Somehow, he just took his brain,” Tsarni said.
But the brief account left many questions unanswered. It said Allakhverdov declined to describe his relationship with Tamerlan or his family and that he had never met the Tsarnaev relatives who have been speaking about Allakhverdov’s influence. (The ex-brother-in-law recalled witnessing long conversations between Tamerlan and “Misha” that lasted into the night in the Tsarnaev family’s kitchen.) There was no information about Tamerlan’s religious beliefs or politics, nor was there an explanation of why the two stopped talking.