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CNN NEWSROOM

Suspects' Former Brother-In-Law Speaks; FBI's Tsarnaev Case Under Scrutiny; Bombing Site Reopens to Public

Aired April 24, 2013 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Have you been interviewed by the FBI?

ELMIRZA KHOZHUGOV, SUSPECTS' FORMER BROTHER-IN-LAW (via telephone): No, never.

BLITZER: And if they ask for your -- if they wanted to get your thoughts on what was going on, would you be open to helping the U.S. investigation in the bombings?

KHOZHUGOV: Absolutely. I think anyone in our family would be willing to help, to find out what happened, what really went on in his head or who helped him if there was anyone who helped him.

BLITZER: Bottom line, Elmirza, do you believe the allegations against these two brothers are true, that they planted these two bombs that killed three people, injured more than 250 other people? Do you believe these allegations?

KHOZHUGOV: I believe that Dzhokhar admitted and only since he did admit it that's when I started believing him. I mean, I hoped they didn't do it. I did hope that they were innocent. I believe that in the U.S. the investigations -- and I believe that this happened.

They were being hunted down for a reason. I was hoping it wasn't them. I was hoping it was a mistake, but since Dzhokhar admitted it or gave thoughts on it, I now believe it. Yes, it's possible and probably they did it.

BLITZER: What caused that -- Elmirza, what happened here? Why did these two brothers go down this path as alleged by federal authorities? How does this happen to two normal guys growing up in the Boston area all of a sudden move in this other direction, if these allegations are true?

KHOZHUGOV: I think that somebody did have influence on the elder brother and the older brother has influence on the younger one. I don't think that anyone who was mentally normal would be wishing that to someone else. I just believe people are good within themselves.

Knowing Tamerlan for a few years, I remember him as a good person, as a good friend, but he was searching for religion and I believe that someone helped him -- directed him in the wrong direction. So I think it lies somewhere nearby in America in Boston.

I believe there are people who if they didn't make him then at least they planned it, maybe their idea, that he could do such a thing. I'm not saying it's not his fault. I'm saying that I hope that he wasn't, you know, the only one.

I hope that there are other people we can still find and we can still question and we can still maybe stop if they're planning something else. But with regards to Dzhokhar, I really believe that he -- I'm not saying he's innocent, but I believe he was under the influence of the elder brother and he was not realizing what he was doing.

He was too young. He's just 19 now. That's just a starting point in life. Probably his life is ruined now, but I still hope that he will seek forgiveness from those he hurt and I hope that people will find strength and maybe forgive him. And I personally want to -- who was hurt -- who was touched by --

BLITZER: You were married to the sister -- one of the sisters of these two brothers. I understand you're no longer married. You're divorced. Have you spoken to the sister about this whole case?

Unfortunately, I think we've lost our connection with Elmirza Khozhugov. He was joining us from Almadi in Kazakhstan. He was telling us about his concerns about the younger brother being influenced obviously dramatic by the older brother, but some insight from this former brother-in-law of these two suspects.

Once again good morning. It's now just after 10 a.m. here on the east coast. I am Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Boston. Several major developments coming out of Boston this morning, let's get you caught up on what's going on right now.

This morning Boylston Street behind me has reopened. The epicentre of the city's terror is now back in business, reopening to pedestrian, not yet for vehicles, insult to injury, the families of those wounded in the attacks are outraged. They are demanding that the terror suspect be moved from the same hospital where several of the victims are recovering.

Also, the next stop in the investigation becoming Dagestan, U.S. officials arrived in the Southern Russian republic to interview the parents of the accused killers. We established our contact right now with Elmirza Khozhugov, he is the ex-husband of one of Tamerlan's sisters, the two suspects' sister.

Elmirza, can you hear me once again? This is Wolf Blitzer in Boston.

KHOZHUGOV: I can hear you. Can you hear me?

BLITZER: I hear you fine. I just want to button up this conversation and I'll ask you a few blunt direct questions and you can give me your analysis. Before I do though, when was the last time you personally spoke with these two brothers?

KHOZHUGOV: I believe it was 2010.

BLITZER: In 2010. Where were you and where were they? KHOZHUGOV: I came to Cambridge to pick up my son from them that is my first wife. She had him at that time. That's when I spoke to both of them, last time.

BLITZER: At that time, how did they appear to you in 2010?

KHOZHUGOV: They were normal guys, both of them, although like Dzhokhar was still in school, you know, and he was always busy doing school work. Tamerlan was -- we didn't talk for a long time, but we asked each other how it was going. He seemed happy.

He seemed (inaudible). I was looking at him and he seemed normal, not depressed. He only told me that he goes to the mosque often and he's doing community work at the mosque. That's all I got from him in my last conversation.

BLITZER: Have you had any recent conversations with your former wife, the sister of these two brothers?

KHOZHUGOV: Yes, but those are only connected to our child.

BLITZER: In recent days, have you spoken with your ex-wife?

KHOZHUGOV: No. I wasn't able to come to be there -- any one of people in the family, except for uncles. I couldn't speak with the parents. I couldn't speak with the sisters.

BLITZER: Do you believe these two brothers acted alone or were involved in any other terror groups?

KHOZHUGOV: I believe that there are other people involved.

BLITZER: When you say other people involved, what does that mean?

KHOZHUGOV: I mean, some extremists, terrorists. Not terrorists, but extremely radical people. Don't want to point out the religion itself because it is a peaceful religion, but there are people who take it the wrong way probably. I believe, yes, there are some people involved.

I don't blame the special -- the secret service. I don't blame the FBI. I don't believe in framing. I do believe someone preached Tamerlan so much and this is coming from the mosque or religious groups in Boston.

I don't believe Dagestan is involved in it. I am confident that Dagestan is not involved. I am confident that Chechnya is not involved. Not Kazakhstan or Kirgizstan or any other countries Tamerlan visited in the last 20 years I believe are involve.

BLITZER: Do you believe they had assistance, either technical assistance or financial assistance in building those bombs? No audio. Elmirza, I don't know if we've lost contact with you. Can you hear me?

Unfortunately, we have once again lost contact. He's joining from Almadi that's the capital of Kazakhstan. We'll once again try to reconnect. You just heard him say he does believe others were involved with these two brothers in potentially radicalizing them and maybe even providing assistance.

We'll try to reconnect with this former brother-in-law, Elmirza Khozhugov. He is 26-years-old, once again joining us from Kazakhstan. In the meantime, let's move on and check out some other developments here in Boston.

The U.S. clearly wants to question the bombing suspects' parents at their home in Southern Russian. A delegation from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has arrived there this morning. The suspects' mother says she believes her two sons were framed.

A U.S. official says the Russian government is cooperating in the investigation right now. Some U.S. senators are defending the FBI saying they don't believe the agency dropped the ball on its investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Remember, agents questioned him in 2011 at Russia's request, didn't find anything at least not then. CNN's crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, is joining us now from Washington.

Joe, a lot of people are wondering if the FBI missed something when the Russians first tipped them off about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother. What's the latest there in Washington?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that certainly is the question right now. Some of this is about the federal databases that track people who travel to and from the United States. The issue is whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev's movements between here and Russia slipped through any of the security nets.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): Tamerlan Tsarnaev first hit the FBI's radar in 2011 when the Russian government told the agency they should check him out.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The Russian FSB sent a letter to the FBI and other agencies, that we think this guy has become radical, you need to watch him.

JOHNS: An FBI statement said the request from Russia was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer that he had changed drastically in 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country's region to join unspecified underground groups.

The FBI says it checked U.S. government databases, telephone communications and online activity, and also actually interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and family members. But the FBI says it did not find any terrorism activities so it gave that information to Russia and ask for, but did not receive more specific or additional info, case closed. TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Because additional information didn't come in, then the FBI says for our purposes under our system and with all the records and investigation we're allowed to do here, it hasn't risen to the level to warrant further investigation or full time surveillance.

JOHNS: A federal law enforcement officials agrees and said Tamerlan was not on a terror watch list or any no-fly list because the U.S. never deemed him a threat. So there were no alarm bells when Tsarnaev came back to the U.S. six months later.

JANET NAPOLITANO, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: By the time he returned, all investigations had been -- the matter had been closed.

JOHNS: But even so it is not clear if the Department of Homeland Security, which is charged with monitoring travel even knew that Tsarnaev was on the FBI's radar. Feds failing to talk to each other was supposed to be a lesson learned from 9/11.

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), VICE CHAIR, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We're trying to make sure that all of that information was available was shared. If it wasn't, then there may be somebody who dropped the ball.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Tsarnaev's name had also been misspelled in a U.S. database that looks for suspicious travel activity. But the government says another system, a redundant system apparently picked him up -- Wolf.

BLITZER: More briefings today up on Capitol Hill, Joe. The House Intelligence Committee is going to be briefed by authorities. Is that true?

JOHNS: Yes. That was my understanding the last time I checked, all looking into many of these questions. And a lot of them still unresolved as it stands right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Joe Johns reporting for us. Thanks very much.

We're still continuing to try to reconnect with the ex-brother-in-law of the Tsarnaev brothers. He's in Kazakhstan right now. You heard him suggest that perhaps other people were involved, were assisting these two brothers. We'll try to reconnect with Elmirza Khozhugov when we come back.

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BLITZER: Dramatic reopening of Boylston Street here in the heart of Boston. Brooke Baldwin is standing by over there. Brooke, crews have replaced the bricks and repaired the damaged sidewalk. Set the scene for us. What's it like right now?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Wolf. Good morning. I don't think normal is really the right word here in Boston. But I think today feels maybe half cathartic and half tough. So just to set the scene, we're in the middle of the Back Bay here in Boston.

This is the heart of the Back Bay. This is Boylston Street now reopened. Just down that street is where those two explosions went off. The street as you can see, all the cars and the traffic, it has reopened.

Out of respect to the victims who lost their lives just down that way, I don't want to walk down there. We have some video there. I personally walked down and they're laying new concrete, replacing some of the glass in the shop windows and there are a lot of rose petals, sort of a long -- along the sidewalk.

It's a tough scene. Not a lot of dry eyes. I have to add to be honest. But walking around here, we're not too far from that. This is the memorial. Initially this memorial had been set up down the road because Boylston had been shut off. So they brought these three crosses as we've seen, the three crosses, for the three young victims who were killed in the explosions a week ago last Monday.

I just want to walk you around because people are here, people who are from Boston and people who are not from Boston. Walk with me this way and you can see a lot of flowers, Wolf, a lot of teddy bears, a lot of sweatshirts that say Boston Strong.

A lot of hats, Red Sox right over here. Let me walk you back this way because we have someone here who actually volunteered at the marathon last Monday. His name is Mauricio Salmon. He is here. Like so many people he wanted to pay his respects.

Mauricio, thanks for being with me. Tell me, so you were there at the beginning of the marathon. You saw the smoke. Now that we have Boylston Street reopened today, help people who don't know Boston very well. Help them appreciate why the reopening of Boylston is significant?

MAURICIO SALMON, BOSTON RESIDENT: I actually work around here on Newbury Street. Just coming back, it feels like you're going back into a routine, going back into your normal life, I guess. People are still coping with the stress that was last week. It is pretty significant that people are able to walk around. I can go get my groceries again. Kind of moving on, I think is what everyone is more or less feeling.

BALDWIN: You know, walking around seeing the green line back open, seeing the busses with we are "Boston Strong" running in bright lights in front. What does "Boston Strong" really mean?

SALMON: It means we persevered. People get together and like it's been -- everyone -- what happened last week, everyone just gather around. People supported each other. I think that's what it means. People united in this terrible tragedy and have been able to, I guess, move on. Hopefully, this is just like a onetime thing and it last I think that's what it means.

BALDWIN: Begin to heal?

SALMON: Right.

BALDWIN: Mauricio, thank you. Wolf, I just want to leave with you this. Walk with me because so many people here, little kids and adults, they wanted to visit and wanted to write their own messages, people who knew the victims, people who were here and people who weren't.

Let me just read a couple of these for you. Peace for Boston and all of the world. Over here, moving here, so proud to call this city home and its people my friends. Boston stay strong. Right here, prayers for the families of those lost and for the Boston community. We are strong.

So it is a sense of strength, Wolf, that I think is really bringing this community back together here. I actually just got handed a thank you note from someone who said thanks for our coverage.

But my message is really thanks to Boston. This has been a tough, tough story for everyone here. And clearly people are ready to heal and not move on but move forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brooke Baldwin, over there on Boylston Street, which has now reopened. Brooke, thanks so much.

I want to thank also the mayor of Boston. He said nice words about the media for our coverage. Not often we get that, but it was nice to hear Mayor Tom Menino say some nice words about the media.

Let's bring in our national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem, a columnist for the "Boston Globe" as well. You must be pretty happy that the heart of Boston seems to be slowly but surely coming back.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's right. It's not immediate. There are still going to be activities. Some people still can't get into certain areas. But you're starting to feel it and it's exciting. Classes are back on, kids are back in school.

Ken Feinberg who was here yesterday who is going to run this $20 million fund was very clear. He wanted it to be a transparent and open process. So Bostonians will still be engaged with this, but it is starting to seem very, very familiar.

BLITZER: The investigation -- I don't know if you heard the interview. I spoke with the ex-brother-in-law of these two suspects. He is in Kazakhstan right now. He says that there was this individual. He only knew him by the name of Misha, an Armenian who had converted to Islam who seemed to have this inordinate influence over the older brother, Tamerlan and moved him toward a much fundamentalist or radical Islam. What, if anything, does that say to federal authorities about this investigation?

KAYYEM: There are now two big pieces in the investigation. One is the why? The radicalization process, how did it happen? Did we miss anything? Could we have -- could this have been detected and those are all the questions that the FBI is sorting through and that you're hearing from the Senate Intelligence Committee. That is an important part of this. The other side though and maybe it's confusing to viewers because on one hand we hear there's international connections and then there's a whole bunch of evidence suggesting that they just did everything here and they organized here.

That's where there is another piece of investigation on this domestic side. Could they and did they sort of plan this whole thing by themselves even if they were motivated by all sorts of stuff abroad. And that's the difficulty with putting these pieces together.

BLITZER: If in fact, this Misha, whoever, we don't know his last name. We don't know anything about him. If in fact, he did have this influence over Tamerlan, the older brother, was Misha acting alone? That would be another investigatory route they would have to start going down.

KAYYEM: Right. And so that's where all these investigations are going to head. You're going to see a lot more coming out about what happened in those six months as well as what they were doing here in the lead up to the Boston marathon. There is a credibility issue at this stage with the family members.

They're coming out with inconsistent stories about who the brothers were. Were they forfeit, were they radicalized, whatever and so part of the investigation is actually going to be a credibility investigation because this is a family that is looking out to protect what they can of a remaining reputation.

BLITZER: We're hearing one thing from the mother in Dagestan. The two sons were framed by the FBI. The father is not necessarily going down that route. Now this brother-in-law suggesting that he believes the allegations are probably true. One consistent them we keep hearing is that the older brother influenced and has enormous sway over the younger brother.

KAYYEM: Yes. That is consistent in a lot of these actions. That there is the father figure or that senior figure who has sway over the younger one. We saw it, for example, in Columbine with an older and younger character. So that's quite familiar and maybe one of the reasons why the younger brother now -- he is communicating about what he knows about the plan and what he knows about what his brother did.

BLITZER: Because a good criminal defense lawyer -- you're a lawyer -- if they make the argument that the younger brother is going to be tried potentially with a death sentence, if in fact they make the case he was brainwashed by his older brother, perhaps a jury would say he doesn't deserve the death penalty but life in prison.

KAYYEM: Yes, that will be a defense. There are now a lot of questions just given how much he is communicating about whether a trial will actually occur. I mean, if he has essentially pled then there may be all variations of in fact a trial to occur.

Including something that Boston has been to be prepared for which is whether a trial really happen here. A good defense attorney is going to say there's no way we can get an objective trial in Boston. So I'm guessing that's going to be the --

BLITZER: Timothy McVeigh committed his crime in Oklahoma City. He was tried in Denver and executed in Indiana. So we'll see what happens on this front. Juliette, thanks very much. Juliette Kayyem, our national security analyst, a columnist for the "Boston Globe."

We're back in a moment with more from what's going on here in Boston. Stay with me.

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