As investigators sift through the lives of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trying to understand their radicalization and descent into violence, one clue almost seemed expected. Two U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast that, during his hospital room interrogation, Dzhokhar told FBI agents that he and his brother were influenced by the Internet sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born preacher who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. The charismatic cleric was seen by the Obama administration as a uniquely dangerous terrorist because of his sermons (delivered in fluent, American-inflected English), his intuitive grasp of U.S. culture, and a burning desire to strike his birth nation.
It is unclear the extent to which—if at all—Awlaki’s preachings inspired the brothers to commit terrorism. Indeed, whatever his role, it is likely only a small piece of a complicated, multilayered puzzle. In recent days, there has been speculation that another piece of that puzzle could be a man known simply as “Misha,” whom relatives of the brothers have said held sway over Tamerlan. “This person just took his brain,” Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, told CNN. “He just brainwashed him completely.” Now, The Daily Beast has learned that federal law enforcement officials have identified Misha—although one source suggested it might be a less important part of the case than previously thought.