Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Feds Searching for Friend of Boston Marathon Suspect, 'Concern' Over Chechnya Trip


Feds Searching for Friend of Boston Marathon Suspect, 'Concern' Over

Chechnya Trip

March 4, 2014





Investigators are searching for Heda Umarova, pictured here with Boston

Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in an image on a Russian social

networking site, after she failed to return from a family trip to Chechnya

last year. The others pictured have been blurred out to protect their

identity. VK.com

U.S. counter-terrorism officials are attempting to track down a female

friend of the accused Boston Marathon bomber after she traveled to Chechnya

last year and is believed to have since posted "alarming" jihadi imagery

online, officials told ABC News.


Officials are concerned that Heda Umarova, 23, may have been radicalized to

Islamist violence -- allegedly just like her friend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,

charged in the April 15 bombings, and his brother Tamerlan, who was killed

in a police shootout -- and could pose a threat to Americans overseas

because her U.S. passport allows easy foreign travel.


Umarova left Boston with her family in July with a round-trip ticket to

visit relatives in their native Chechnya, but she failed to return to

Massachusetts with her parents at the end of August. Her family told federal

authorities and ABC News she stayed behind to get married after she met a

man there during Ramadan.


Her younger brothers, Adam, 20, and Junes, 18, were already under suspicion

by some investigators because of their online support for the Tsarnaev

brothers and social media postings that included tweets with Dzhokhar a day

before the blasts. A photo of Junes Umarov and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lighting

fireworks appeared on one social networking site in January 2013, an ABC

News investigation found.


"No one is calling Heda a terrorist but her travel has certainly garnered

some attention. People are concerned that a 23-year-old is in Chechnya, a

country that she fled from... and now she is deciding to stay on her own," a

ranking law enforcement source involved in the Boston Marathon investigation

told ABC News. The source said that her decision to stay in Chechnya also

raised eyebrows because, at least until she is married, she didn't seem to

have any "obvious means" of support.


"We were already concerned about the social media exchanged with her

brothers, who remain on the radar, especially the younger brother Junes, who

was Dzhokhar's best friend," the source added.


And now, sources said, the FBI has been monitoring Heda Umarova's apparent

Internet posts recently, which include depictions of Chechen jihadis

brandishing weapons and a photo-shopped image of a U.S. passport in a

carry-on bag bearing the black flag of jihad.


Heda and her brothers did not respond to multiple attempts by ABC News to

reach them through their parents and social media to comment on the sources'



In a brief interview at his family's home last month, Heda's father Hamzat

Umarov told ABC News that he spoke to the "FBI and CIA" about the

photographs but refused to talk about whether he believes his daughter is

becoming radicalized.


"What does it mean, pictures? Pictures can be anywhere. It doesn't mean

anything, the pictures. We don't want to talk about it. We talk with the

FBI, everybody. The FBI came, CIA, everybody's come,'' he said.


Umarova's trip back to the same country from which her parents fled as

refugees a decade ago to seek political asylum in the U.S. brought federal

agents back to her family's Chelsea home -- the same second-floor apartment

that armed agents searched last April during the manhunt for the accused

marathon bomber, several law enforcement officials told ABC News.


Heda Umarova has not been indicted for any offenses, sources said.


A spokesman for the Boston FBI field office declined to comment on Heda

Umarova or any possible threat she may pose. "It is the FBI's policy not to

confirm or deny whether or not an investigation is being conducted,'' said

Special Agent Gregory Comcowich.


Heda Umarova's Sister: We Were Treated Like 'Terrorists'


The Umarovs were questioned by immigration officials extensively about the

reasons for the return trip to Chechnya when they left Boston last summer,

scrutiny that only intensified when they returned without Heda, law

enforcement sources said.


"They had a hard time getting out of the country and an even harder time

coming back when she [Heda] was not with them,'' said a law enforcement

official familiar with the Umarov family.


The questioning led Heda's sister, Hawa Umarova, 26, to complain to U.S.

Customs and Border Protection and Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force

officials that her family was treated like "terrorists," the sources said,

despite their constant cooperation with various local and federal law

enforcement agencies.


Chelsea Police Chief Brian Keyes confirmed that Hawa Umarova was cooperative

with his officers last April after the identities of the suspected marathon

bombers became known and that her family submitted to a voluntary search of

their home during the desperate search for Dhzokhar Tsarnaev.


Federal investigators were led to Chelsea initially by Twitter messages

exchanged between Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Junes Umarov a day before the twin

blasts exploded along the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three

and wounding another 260 others last April 15.


In addition to the social media exchanges between Junes and Dzhokhar,

federal authorities are now also scrutinizing a Russian social networking

page using the name Heda Umarova that was linked to a fan page for Dzhokhar

on the same social networking site.


The page is sympathetic to Tsarnaev and his supporters, who insist on his

innocence. It features several pictures of the Umarov siblings with Dzhokhar

Tsarnaev, including one with Heda, her brother Adam, and "Johar" as a boy,

which is the Russian spelling of the accused terrorist's nickname.


But the postings on the Heda Umarova VK page that have concerned federal

counter-terrorism officials include photographs of several women dressed as

jihadi fighters in Chechnya, taken probably about a decade ago, an expert



In one photo, a woman in a black headscarf is toting an AK-47 rifle. Other

extremist postings support martyrdom and violence for Islam.


Days after ABC News spoke with Heda's parents, the images in question and

the link to the fan page for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev disappeared from the Heda

Umarova VK page.


The social networking page also included links to Kavkaz Center, which is a

jihadist media portal linked to Doku Umarov, the jihadi leader of the

Caucusus Emirate who threatened to strike the Sochi Olympics last July.

There is no familial relation to the terror leader and Umarov is a common

name, family members in Chelsea, Mass. told ABC News.


Investigators found a YouTube page created by Tamerlan Tsarnaev that

included a lecture given by a leader connected to Doku Umarov, law

enforcement officials said, but there is no evidence the North Caucasus

militant leader influenced the marathon attacks.


Heda's Mother: I 'Love' the US


During another interview last week, Heda's mother, Raisa Umarova, became

emotional when asked why her daughter stayed behind in Chechnya, a country

that she and her husband desperately wanted to leave 10 years ago when their

five children were "babies."


"She is getting married. She doesn't speak good Russian. They [the Umarov

children] come to this country as babies. This is my home now. I love this

country. I love my children being here," the mother said through tears.


Raisa Umarova said her family came to Massachusetts as political refugees

but became proud U.S. citizens after seven years here.


The Umarovs as new immigrants became friendly with the Tsarnaevs in 2004,

three years after the Tsarnaevs arrived, Hamzat Umarov told federal

officials, and acknowledged to ABC News that the families "knew each other."


Both families were natives of Chechnya -- though the elder Tsarnaevs now

live in neighboring Dagestan -- who successfully sought political asylum in

the United States by citing the staggering violence in that region and "the

Tsarnaevs took them under their wing," an investigator said.


But despite her younger children's public support for Dzhokhar, Raisa

Umarova insisted that she and her husband have no contact with the Tsarnaev



"I don't like them. I like my country,'' she said, referring to America.


No one in the Umarov family has been charged with a crime or named as a

suspect complicit in the April 15 attack on the Boston Marathon.


Chelsea High School officials said federal investigators interviewed Junes'

teachers and classmates after the marathon bombings last year.


Chelsea High Principal Joseph Mullaney told ABC News all five of the Umarov

children attended the public school and called them "bright students." Junes

and Adam were in Advanced Placement classes, like their older sister Hawa,

who speaks several languages, Mullaney added.


Hawa went on to graduate from Mass College of Liberal Arts in North Adams,

Mass. Junes and Adam are roommates and students at MCLA now. Adam Umarov was

questioned on campus last year, officials said.


Chelsea High School librarian Thelma Dakubu said the entire Umarov family

strongly identified with Chechnya. Adam even posted the Chechen flag of

Ichkeria - which symbolizes the ongoing conflict between the Russian

federation and nationalists there - on his Chelsea High School Yearbook page

in 2012.


"They were fond of saying, 'We're not Russian. We're Chechen,''' Dakubu told

ABC News. "Heda was the quiet one."


Dakubu was also quick to add that the family appeared tight-knit and

hardworking. The family patriarch, Hamzat Umarov, even performed a custom

Chechen dance at a high school talent show with his daughters, she said.


"They seem to be a close family,'' Dakubu said.


In his 2013 high school yearbook, Junes Umarov wrote, "I'm a stress free

kind of guy" -- which is the identical quote Dzhokhar Tsarnaev tweeted two

days after the bombings, one of several he sent during the chaotic search

for the attackers.


Both Hamzat Umarov and his wife Raisa Umarova insisted in separate

interviews that Heda stayed in Chechnya to get married. Raisa Umarova said

that the future groom is "lovely" and that Heda met him during Ramadan

services during the family trip.


The family, however, would not provide details on the wedding and declined

to identify the groom to ABC News. Sources said law enforcement officials

were similarly stonewalled.


Tsarnaev has been held in a Massachusetts federal prison at Fort Devens

since his arrest and the Department of Justice has announced prosecutors

will seek the death penalty. Tsarnaev is also charged with the assassination

of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who prosecutors said was gunned down by

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on April 18.


U.S. District Court Judge George A. O'Toole ruled last month that the trial

is slated to begin in November and allowed the defense team to add another

death penalty attorney to work on the case. Last week defense attorneys

complained in a court filing that the FBI is monitoring every file that they

review with Tsarnaev, endangering his right to a fair trial. Much of the

court filings on the case are under seal.



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