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US team urges Russian security cooperation

Visiting House member says there was "nothing specific" that could have helped prevent Boston bombings.

Last Modified: 03 Jun 2013 03:23
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The elder Tsarnaev, Tamerlan, left, is believed to have spent six months in Russia's Dagestan last year

The head of a US congressional delegation has said that its meetings in Russia show there was "nothing specific" that could have helped prevent the Boston Marathon bombings, but that the two countries need to work more closely on joint security threats.

Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican House member who led the six-member delegation, described on Sunday discussions with Russian parliament members and security officials as productive.

Some of the meetings, he said, were made possible by Steven Seagal, the American actor.

Seagal, who attended the news conference in the US embassy, is well connected in Russia. He met Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, and last week paid a visit to Ramzan Kadyrov, who rules Chechnya, a province in southern Russia that has seen two wars between federal troops and Chechen separatists since 1994.

Those wars spawned an Islamic insurgency that spread across the Caucasus region, including to neighbouring Dagestan, now the centre of the violence.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev travelled to Russia early in 2012 and spent six months in Dagestan, a North Caucasus province that is now at the centre of the Islamist insurgency rooted in two post-Soviet separatist wars in neighbouring Chechnya.

Investigators have been trying to determine whether he had contacts with the fighters there.

Account of meeting

The FBI did not tell the FSB, FSB, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had returned to Russia, Steve King, another House member, said.

Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, said it appeared the FSB had been unaware that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was in Dagestan.

He also said Russian security officials told the delegation they believed that Tsarnaev and his mother had been radicalised before moving to the US in 2003.

"I suspect he was raised to do what he did," King, a Republican from Iowa, said.

His account of the meeting at the FSB was disputed by Steven Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat House member, who said he understood that the radicalisation took place much later, when the family was living in Boston.

Rohrabacher said a higher level of cooperation between the US and Russia is necessary to keep people safe in both countries.

"Radical Islam is at our throat in the United States, and is at the throat of the Russian people," he said.

The congressman repeatedly thanked Seagal, who took credit for arranging the congressmen's meeting at the FSB, and said it helped avoid the experience of past foreign trips when all of the meetings had been arranged by the US embassy.

"You know what we got? We got the State Department controlling all the information that we heard," Rohrabacher said.

"You think that's good for democracy? No way!"

Visit to Beslan

The action film star escorted the congress members on a trip on Saturday to the site of a terrorist attack in the Caucasus town of Beslan, where Muslim fighters seized a school in 2004 and took more than 1,000 people hostage, most of them children.

More than 330 hostages died, most of them when federal troops stormed the school.

Seagal had invited the delegation to visit Chechnya, but the trip was called off in part because US House rules would have prevented the congress members from flying on his private plane, Rohrabacher said.

Rohrabacher, who chairs the US Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, said the US should be more understanding of the threats facing Kadyrov and Putin.

"If you are in the middle of an insurrection with Chechnya, and hundreds of people are being killed and there are terrorist actions taking place and kids are being blown up in schools, yeah, guess what, there are people who overstep the bounds of legality," he said.

While the rule of law is important, Rohrabacher added, "We shouldn't be describing people who are under this type of threat, we shouldn't be describing them as if they are Adolf Hitler or they're back to the old Communism days."

The Kremlin has called for closer intelligence cooperation after the Boston bombings and high-level meetings have been held, but Russia's expulsion of an alleged US spy recruiter last month underscored persistent tension.

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