The mysterious Misha, identified as Mikhail Allakhverdov and thought to be the missing link in explaining the radicalization of Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, has broken his silence to speak out from his home in Rhode Island on Sunday.
Accused by members of the Tsarnaev family of being the mastermind behind the Boston Marathon attacks which killed three and injured over 280 people, Mikhail Allakhverdov has come forward in hope of setting the record straight.
Frenzied speculation surrounded his role in April 15th’s attacks, with some asking whether “Misha” was part of a wider terror cell or incredibly, if he was a Russian mole – sent to spy on Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
His very absence from the investigation fueled the conspiracy theories – but now he has come forward to declare himself innocent and that crucially the FBI do not believe he had any part in the bombings.
Christian Caryl from the New York Review of Books tracked down Mikhail Allakhverdov to his family home in Rhode Island – to a lower middle class neighborhood.
The meeting between Christian Caryl and Mikhail Allakhverdov confirms right away that he does have the widely reported distinguishing reddish beard mentioned by members of the Tsarnaev family.
Living with his parents in a tidy apartment, Mikhail Allakhverdov flat out denied any part in Tamerlan, 26 and 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s murderous attacks.
Confirming he is indeed a convert to Islam, Misha said he did know Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2009 as he spoke to Christian Caryl in Russian.
“I wasn’t his teacher. If I had been his teacher, I would have made sure he never did anything like this,” Mikhail Allakhverdov said to the New York Review of Books.
The mysterious Misha, identified as Mikhail Allakhverdov and thought to be the missing link in explaining the radicalization of Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, has broken his silence
Mikhail Allakhverdov, 39, is of Armenian-Ukrainian descent and lives with an American girlfriend with his elderly parents.
His father is an Armenian Christian and his mother is an ethnic Ukrainian.
Speaking to the New York Review of Books, Mikhail Allakhverdov’s father said: “We love this country. We never expected anything like this to happen to us.”
Mikhail Allakhverdov confirmed to the New York Review of Books that he knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2009 when he lived in Boston but none in the years since.
He declined to elaborate on his relationship with Tamerlan Tsarnaev and how he became friends – but would not say why he ceased speaking to the Boston bomber.
However, Misha denied that he had ever met any of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s family – which contradicts their claims that he would be seen discussing Islam with the elder Tsarnaev brother late at night at the family’s kitchen table.
He also confirmed he had been interviewed by the FBI and that he has cooperated with the investigation:
“I’ve been cooperating entirely with the FBI. I gave them my computer and my phone and everything I wanted to show I haven’t done anything. 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.”
An FBI spokesman in Boston declined to comment on an ongoing case – but confirms recent reports that “Misha” is not thought to be connected to the bombings.
Accused by Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, of radicalizing his nephew, Mikhail Allakhverdov became known only by the name “Misha” as wild speculation grew as to his identity or even if he was real.
“It started in 2009. And it started right there, in Cambridge,” Ruslan Tsarni told CNN after the attacks.
“This person just took his brain. He just brainwashed him completely.”
On Friday the FBI revealed that they now know the identity of the American known as Misha who helped radicalize the Boston bombing suspects.
Family members of dead bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev have described Misha as the guiding influence in the elder bomber developing radicalized views.
Speculation as to who Misha is has varied wildly in the past week, with some suggesting he is the mastermind behind the marathon bombings while others believe he could be a Russian spy – sent to identify and keep tabs on young men like Tamerlan Tsarnaev who are at risk of turning to militant Islam.
Up till Sunday all that was known about Misha is that he is an Armenian man in his 30s with distinctive red beard and that he has disappeared – no longer living in the Cambridge, Massachusetts area.
However, before Sunday’s revelations family members had been telling reporters that in the years before the Boston marathon bombings, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, fell under the strong influence of a new friend, a Christian who converted to Islam and who steered the religiously apathetic young man towards adopting strong Islamic views.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a police shootout four days after the bombings on April 15th.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was charged last Monday with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill, and he could face the death penalty if convicted.
Under the tutelage of a friend known to the Tsarnaev family only as Misha, Tamerlan gave up boxing and stopped studying music, his family said. He began opposing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev turned to websites and literature claiming that the CIA was behind the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, and Jews controlled the world.
According to Ruslan, Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s radicalization happened right under the nose of his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva.
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were “failed” by their parents, especially their “controlling” mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, who encouraged their move towards Islamic radicalization, claims their uncle.
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev looked up to their mother as an “angel” but, according to one of their uncles, she was the one who allowed them to be introduced to hardline Islamic views.
Boston marathon bombers’ uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, claimed that Zubeidat Tsarnaeva allowed a firebrand cleric into their house to give one-on-one sermons to Tamerlan over the kitchen table during which he claimed he could talk to demons and perform exorcisms.
It appears that the boys’ father, Anzor Tsarnaev never stood up to his wife as she was the “boss” of their house.
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s story began in the mid 1980s when a young Kazakh soldier called Anzor Tsarnaev, now 47, met his future wife Zubeidat , now 45, whilst completing his two years of military service.
Anzor Tsarnaev was aged 19 or 20 at the time and Zubeidat 17 or 18. She was from Dagestan, which borders Kazakhstan to the West.
They got married and had four children.
The oldest child was Tamerlan, followed by daughters Bella, now 24, Alilina, now 22, and finally Dzhokhar.
In 2002 Anzor Tsarnaev and Zubeidat Tsarnaeva came to the US on tourist visas with a young Dzhokhar and claimed asylum.
The rest of the family joined them a year later, having spent 12 months living with Ruslan Tsarni at his home in Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan, where they used to go to private school and were visited every week by the grandmother.
Ruslan Tsarni recalled Tamerlan Tsarnaev being a “joyful guy with a lot of ambition” during that time.
The boys’ uncle said: “They grew up nice because their grandmother was close to them, our family was close to them.
“Grandmother kept them so they were always under supervision.”
When the Tsarnaevs moved to Cambridge their new life was not much of an American dream.
With minimal language skills their parents had to take whatever work they could get so their mother began offering facials in their cramped home.
At one point there were at least seven people living in a humble semi-detached property.
Another uncle, Alvi Tsarnaev, did minimum wage shifts whilst Anzor started working two jobs including at a car mechanic.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev tried to make a career out of being a boxer but failed and dropped out of Bunker Hill Community College.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev however seemed to excel at school and eventually won a place at the University of Massachusetts where he was studying Marine Biology.
According to Alvi Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar led a quiet life and never went anywhere other than his home on Norfolk St and his school.
Ruslan Tsarni had always had Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s ear and said that like the other children he “came to America for a bright future”.
He remembers seeing him in 2006 when he was 21 and had just graduated high school.
Rusland Tsarni said: “He was asking me questions and I was happy to give him the answers. I told him the best way to start your way in a country, I’d start with the Army. Give [your country] something.
“We’ve not been brought here, give to it.
“I told him that you don’t have good English so you can’t make it to a good school, but later. He can go there, while you serve you improve your English and with English you improve your education and the Army will give you the path.
“At the time he seriously considered it. And in 2009 when I said why are you doing nothing, join the Army, why don’t you be useful, he laughed at me for killing our brother Muslims.”
That year turned out to be a turning point.
After that Ruslan Tarni could no longer act as a proxy parent as he always had done.
Ruslan Tsarni said: “The change of the older boy, one of the biggest causes is her.
“First she started playing into this religious c*** they say is a devotion to Islam.”
Ruslan Tsarni dismissed Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, who was arrested last year for stealing $1,600 of lingerie from a department store, as a “bad character”.
Life took a bad turn for one of her daughters who, according to reports, was set up by Zubeidat Tsarnaeva in an arranged marriage.
It fell apart two years later after her husband supposedly beat her up. Zubeidat Tsarnaeva’s other daughter was also married but got divorced too. Both have one child that lives with the father’s family.
Ruslan Tsarni said: “I never liked her, but not for personal reasons. These kids, I thought she’s not doing enough. She’s not doing them right, especially when they grew up.”
Zubeidat Tsarnaeva may encouraged her sons Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev move towards Islamic radicalization
According to Ruslan Tsarni, Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s radicalization was well underway by 2007 – right under the nose of his mother.
He claimed that the man responsible was a cleric aged around 30 called Misha and that he was an Armenian who, unusually for such a largely Christian people, had converted to Islam.
As far as he knew Misha was based in a mosque that was a short drive from Cambridge and that he was new to Islam.
A leader from the 50,000 strong Armenian community in Boston however cast doubt on the claim.
The Rev Gregory Haroutunian said he be “stunned” if anyone in the area would have had such hatred for America.
Ruslan Tsarni said: “People who lack morals but have big ambition always want some attention to themselves or certain respect to themselves.
“All they do is just change a tyre. You wear a hijab and you start dropping every other word Insha’Allah and all of a sudden that makes you a godly person.
“She [Zubeidat Tsarnaeva] supported it [in the boys), some really bad person [started it].
“She was not able to teach them anything. The introduction came from new Muslim convert of Armenian descent.
“He claimed to be an exorcist who is fighting with demons.”
It was in 2007 one evening around midnight as Anzor Tsarnaev came home from work to find the cleric in his kitchen, claimed Ruslan Tsarni.
“It was all the same talking, God, God, how he’s talking to demons, how he’s an exorcist, how he’s healing people. Tamerlan was absolutely in his possession. All around people considered him just another prick.
“Then my brother comes in from work, very late and Anzor is talking to his wife saying what is this person doing here so late?
“Tell him to get the hell out. And she says: <<You’d better shut up, this person is teaching wise things to your son>>. This is the mother. After that Tamerlan went over his place, he changed his views. It started from people like that.”
Ruslan Tsarni said he offered to send Tamerlan Tsarnaev to a school in Almaty and pay for it, but he declined. He gave him $3,000 to buy a car and drive to his home in Maryland just to watch over the house, but he did not do it.
The uncle said he tried “anything but not to be with his parents” because his opinion of them was so low.
He said that he would get phone calls from Ailina Tsarnaeva’s college saying she was in detention, having already been told by Zubeidat that she was in the library. Similar instances happened with Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
By 2009, Ruslan Tsarni had had enough. He told Zubeidat Tsarnaeva and her family they were no longer welcome in his home. Only his brother would be allowed in were they to visit.
It was the last time he would speak to his nephew.
A family friend said that the split happened because Ruslan Tsarni became frustrated when his attempts to change the direction of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s life fell on deaf ears.
As Muslims, the way they traditionally resolved such disputes was that men would talk to men and that words would be said to the wife and the children.
As Zubeidat Tsarnaeva was in command in her house, such pleas fell on deaf ears when made to Anzor Tsarnaev.
A family friend said: “It drove a wedge between them. Ruslan couldn’t help Tamerlan because Anzor told him to stay away from his wife and not tell her what to do.
“It was very upsetting for Ruslan. He loves Dzhokhar and Tamerlan so much and to not be able to do anything really upset him.
“Anzor is so in love with his wife that he will do anything that she says. He will go to the ends of the Earth to be with her.
“For Anzor, them being together is more important to him than anything else.”
At some point Anzor Tsarnaev appears to have moved back to Kazakhstan, or possibly Dagestan.
Some reports have suggested Anzor Tsarnaev and Zubeidat Tsarnaeva separated but relatives claimed that they are still together.
The last time Ruslan Tsarni spoke to Tamerlan Tsarnaev was in August 2009. He did not even go to his wedding to Katherine Russell, with whom Tamerlan Tsarnaev has a 3-year-old daughter, and found out about it a year or so later.
Reflecting on their last conversation, Ruslan Tsarni said: “I asked him why he wasn’t at work, what happened with your college, why are you not in college.
“He changed his life views and he’s on the path of God…he was all the time in the path of Jihad.
“My brother lost control of it [his family] a long time ago. The mother was very influential. She says they would share everything with her, she had a very strong influence over them. She was controlling them.
“Tamerlan absolutely controlled Dzhokhar, he was under his influence. This is how in our tradition, the older one has to control but take care of the younger ones.
“The taking care didn’t happen and he wasted his brother’s life and he made him involved in this massacre.
“Me as an uncle I hold responsible for what turned out with these kids, the parents. Had Tamerlan been closer to me, had I heard any of his talking I would have cut it and been harsh with him.”
With no uncle to watch over him, Tamerlan Tsarnaev appears to have become even more radical and, on a personal level, more angry with the world.
In 2009 Tamerlan Tsarnaev was arrested after slapping his girlfriend and leaving her crying “hysterically”, according to the arrest report, because she suspected he was cheating on her.
In 2012, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother Dzhokhar began attending a local mosque, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Centre, but were not regulars.
About three months ago Tamerlan Tsarnaev was thrown out after he shouted at the imam during a Friday prayer service because he held up a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and said he was a good man who they should emulate.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev called him a Kaffir, or non-believer, and said: “You cannot mention this guy because he’s not a Muslim!”
Alvi Tsarnaev said that Ruslan Tsarni gave Tamerlan and Dzhokhar a great start in life and ‘put those children in a good place’.
But he also agreed that when it came to family affairs, they treated their mother “like an angel” – and that what she said was the law.
Alvi Tsarnaev said: “They would do anything for their mother. They are not going to listen to their father but they are going to listen to their mother.
“They are very close to their mother….she is the family boss. She is the boss in the family.
“Usually in Muslim people the boss is the man, but in their family, she is the boss.”
Alvi Tsarnaev also revealed that the hate which swept up his two nephews is now reached his doorstep too.
Since the bombings he has received a string of voicemail messages which have left him deeply disturbed.
He has deleted most of them, but the one he has saved is a man’s voice which says: “Leave our country you Cechnic Chechen Muslim motherf******s.”
For her part Zubeidat Tsarnaeva is unrepentant about encouraging Tamerlan to become more religious and even brags about how it has “changed” her for the better.
Zubeidat Tsarnaeva told the Wall St Journal that at Tamerlan’s request she wore Islamic clothes around the house, even though her husband did not want her to.
She said: “I told Tamerlan that we are Muslim, and we are not practicing our religion, and how can we call ourselves Muslims?
“And that’s how Tamerlan started reading about Islam, and he started praying, and he got more and more and more into his religion.
“I started reading and started learning, I started reading with my Tamerlan.”
In fact their bond was so close, that it was her that Tamerlan Tsarnaev chose to phone in the early hour of Friday morning in the middle of the gun battle with police that would claim his life.
With a suicide vest round his neck and explosions going off around him, Tamerlan Tsarnaev dialed his mother’s number and said: “The police, they have started shooting at us, they are chasing us.”
Then, finally, before hanging up Tamerlan Tsarnaev said: “Mama, I love you.”