MAKHACHKALA, Russia (AP) — The parents of Tamerlan Tsarnaev insisted Sunday that he came to Dagestan and Chechnya last year to visit relatives and had nothing to do with the militants operating in the volatile part of Russia, with his father saying he slept a lot of the time. But the Boston bombing suspect couldn't have been immune to the attacks that savaged the region during his six-month stay.
Investigators are now focusing on the trip that Tsarnaev made to Russia in January 2012 that has raised many questions. His father said his son stayed with him in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, where the family lived briefly before moving to the U.S. a decade ago. The father had only recently returned.
"He was here, with me in Makhachkala," Anzor Tsarnaev told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "He slept until 3 p.m., and you know, I would ask him: 'Have you come here to sleep?' He used to go visiting, here and there. He would go to eat somewhere. Then he would come back and go to bed."
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — both ethnic Chechens — are accused of setting off the two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15 that killed three people and wounded more than 180 others. Three days later, Tamerlan died in a shootout with police, while his brother was later captured alive but wounded.
No evidence has emerged since to link Tamerlan Tsarnaev to militant groups in Russia's Caucasus. On Sunday, the Caucasus Emirate, which Russia and the U.S. consider a terrorist organization, denied involvement in the Boston attack.
A woman who works in a small shop opposite Tsarnaev's apartment building said she only saw his son during the course of one month last summer. She described him as a dandy.
"He dressed in a very refined way," Madina Abdullaeva said. "His boots were the same color as his clothes. They were summer boots, light, with little holes punched in the leather."
Anzor Tsarnaev said they also traveled to neighboring Chechnya.
"He went with me twice, to see my uncles and aunts. I have lots of them," the father said.
He said they also visited one of his daughters, who lives in the Chechen town of Urus-Martan with her husband. His son-in-law's brothers all work in the police force under Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, he said.
Moscow has given Kadyrov a free hand to stabilize Chechnya following two wars between federal troops and Chechen separatists beginning in 1994, and his feared police and security forces have been accused of rampant rights abuses.
What began in Chechnya as a fight for independence has morphed into an Islamic insurgency that has spread throughout Russia's Caucasus, with the worst of the violence now in Dagestan.
In February, 2012, shortly after Tamerlan Tsarnaev's arrival in Dagestan, a four-day operation to wipe out several militant bands in Chechnya and Dagestan left 17 police and at least 20 militants dead. In May, two car bombs shook Makhachkala, killing at least 13 people and wounding about 130 more. Other bombings and shootings targeting police and other officials took place nearly daily.
The Caucasus Emirate said Sunday that its mujahedin are not fighting with the U.S.
"We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims," it said in a statement on the Kavkaz Center website.
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