WASHINGTON—US Senator Lindsey Graham said this morning that the FBI told him it was initially unaware that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had traveled to Russia early last year because of a clerical error: His name was misspelled.
“He went over to Russia, but apparently, when he got on the Aeroflot plane, they misspelled his name,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican said on Fox television this morning. “So it never went into the system that he actually went to Russia.”
Graham, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in answer to a follow-up question that he did not know whether Tsarnaev, the 26-year-old terrorist suspect who died early Friday following a shootout with law enforcement, had misspelled his name on purpose.
The FBI “said Aeroflot gave us the information” that Tsarnaev had traveled there, Graham said, though he did not specify when that occurred. Tsarnaev had been flagged to the FBI by Russian authorities in 2011.
He also did not say where the name was misspelled and why his passport and US Customs and Border Protection information did not make it into government records.
Follow-up questions to Graham’s office were not immediately answered. The FBI could not be reached for comment immediately either.
There has been at least one other variant spelling of his family name. His uncle Ruslan, who lives in Maryland, spells the last name “Tsarni.”
Graham, who on Sunday strongly questioned the FBI’s handling of a tip from Russian officials about Tsarnaev, said he spoke with the agency’s deputy director Sunday night and is now satisfied with the response.
“Once the Russians made the request, the FBI did a good job at looking at him,” Graham said.
He said the FBI interviewed Tsarnaev, his parents, and his schoolmates and did a thorough record search to see if anything came up. The agency found nothing and then wrote Russian authorities back to see if they had further information, but did not receive a response, Graham said.
Noah Bierman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.