Alex Witt   |  April 21, 2013

Questions swirl around Boston suspect's Russia trip

NBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann talks about past red flags surrounding Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> as for the suspect's dead older brother tamerlan, his conduct before the attacks is raising red flags in the intelligence community after making at least one trip to russia , the most recent at the beginning of 2012 for six months, authorities say he set up a youtube account full of islamic postings and even images of bombs blowing up in high-rise buildings. russian investigators now claim he was on their radar. nbc news terrorism analyst evan coleman is joining me in studio. i want to thank you for being here. let's talk about radicalization, because we heard from former white house counterterrorism expert richard clark this morning. let's listen to what he had to say.

>> how do you tell when someone gets radicalized? they're normal, they're happy kids in cambridge, then something happens. a switch is flipped. how can the fbi , how can homeland security notice when that happens? what i want to know is what did the russians do when he went back to russia ? they had already said they were interested in him. then he goes back to russia and spends over six months there. what did they do? did they follow him around? that's a question we need an answer to.

>> so what are the answers to these questions? we are not a police state , and yet this was someone around whom there were red flags .

>> yeah, and look. there certainly was information provided by russian security service to the fbi , but we have to put that into context. the russian fsb and other agencies are not always working in our best interest and we don't always share the exact same perspective that they have on rebels based in chechnya. they consider all rebels as terrorists. the u.s. government doesn't necessarily see things that way. so when we get a piece of information like that, it's sometimes difficult to sort out what is this. and there are a lot of people out there with radical videos on their youtube profiles. most of these people will probably never kill someone. they will probably never carry out an act of violence . i think we'll have to dig a little deeper to see exactly who he was in contact with.

>> most people have not had the russian government reach out to the united states fbi and say hey, could you check this guy out. so if you look at what was posted on his youtube account, it is disturbing on a very basic level.

>> it is.

>> so how should we have reacted in the wake of that?

>> my sense is that there's something more to that. i don't believe the russians were just interested in him on the basis of a youtube profile. so far we've seen already from the mainstream caucasus, we didn't have anything to do with this. we're not at war with the united states . so we really have to balance this carefully. the russians may have pursued this guy because he was interested in chechen militancy. but that doesn't necessarily mean that that's the link here to what happened later in boston. there are folks that get radicalized overseas and they still carry out attacks lone wolf style when they get back to their country of origin . it doesn't necessarily mean that there's a link to something overseas. it has to be pursued. we have to find out what exactly the basis of their concern was. was it simply that he was interested in chechnya or was he in touch with an instructor, a trainer, somebody that represents an organization. so far none of the traditional organizations we've seen in this region have claimed credit. they distanced themselves from this individual.

>> so far no one has come forward and said if he was an iffy, suspicious character. the kinds of attacks that he carried out, both of these brothers but tamerlan in particular, given that he was overseas, it's almost as if he had a split personality. he was just fine, relatively normal. you know, gentle disposition, allegedly. i mean, he was a boxing champion.

>> something changed his perspective towards the united states . if you look at the interviews that le dhe did between 2004 and 2010 , he went from saying the usa is a great place, there are jobs here for people, to all of a sudden saying i don't have any american friends , i don't understand these people. something between that time period, something changed his perspective about living here in the united states and about his relationship with other americans. it's hard to believe that's purely something that happened when he was in russia . i think it's logical to assume the lad callization process probably began before he ever left for russia . maybe it reached a peak at a certain point. if you look at his comments before he ever left for russia , they were already indicating his frustration with living in the united states .

>> i want to bring up something that richard engel and i spoke about yesterday, and that was the chatter that was on terrorist websites. talk about what you have seen.

>> yeah, we've seen a ton of comments being posted on top al qaeda forms. there was something like 25 separate discussion threads started on al qaeda 's main discussion forums within 12 hours of this incident happening. but the people that are chatting on there, they're not saying this guy was connected to al qaeda . they're not saying this guy was part of the chechen -- they're basing what they're saying off of media reporting. but these are some pretty well-informed individuals.

>> i should say these are guys -- some of them say they behaved poorly at the end. that once their pictures were put out there, that a true jihadist would never have behaved almost in a knee jerk reaction.

>> and it's a reasonable question. if someone is given operational training and is carefully schooled in how to carry out an attack. why would they be marching around in front of television cameras with the hat on backwards and no sunglasses on revealing the face open. that's terrible operational security . that really doesn't show a great deal of thought, at least on behalf of one of the suspects. and i think that also goes into the calculus of whether or not there was an organization behind this, or whether or not these guys were self-radicalized, self-starters.

>> evan coleman, as always, many thanks.