UNDISCLOSED LOCATION IN NORTH CAUCASUS, Russia (Reuters) - The parents of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects have retreated to a village in southern Russia to shelter from the spotlight and abandoned plans for now to travel to the United States, the father of the suspects told Reuters on Sunday.
Speaking in the garden of a large house, Anzor Tsarnaev said he believed he would not be allowed to see his surviving son Dzhokhar, who was captured and has been charged in connection with the April 15 bomb blasts that killed three people and wounded 264.
“Unfortunately I can’t help my child in any way. I am in touch with Dzhokhar’s and my own lawyers. They told me they would let me know (what to do),” Tsarnaev said in an interview in the village where he relocated with the suspects’ mother.
He agreed to the face-to-face meeting on condition that the village’s location in the North Caucasus, a string of mainly Muslim provinces in southern Russia, not be disclosed.
“I am not going back to the United States. For now I am here. I am ill,” said Tsarnaev, pacing nervously in the garden at sunset in the quiet village set in rolling hills and surrounded by cow pastures.
His face gaunt and tired, Tsarnaev said he suffered from high blood pressure and a heart condition.
Tsarnaev had said in the North Caucasus province of Dagestan on Thursday that he planned to travel to the United States to see Dzhokhar and bury his elder son, Tamerlan, who was killed during a manhunt four days after the bombings.
In Sunday’s interview he said he had decided to move away from the family home in Dagestan to the new location because he wanted to keep a low profile.
Dressed in a black shirt and black trousers, he passionately defended his sons’ innocence, saying they had nothing to do with Islamist extremists.
“I feel hopeless. We are simple people. We are trying to understand. We are attacked from all sides,” he said, clutching his head in despair.
“I don’t know whether I should talk or stay silent. I don’t want to harm my child. ... We are used to all sorts of things here but we didn’t expect this from the United States.”
He and other members of the family believe a man shown on television being led naked into a police car the night of the shootout was Tamerlan, and that the blurry footage, still widely available on YouTube, proves Tamerlan was captured alive. Boston police say Tamerlan was killed in a shootout, and the man seen being led into the car was a bystander who was briefly detained.
Anzor Tsarnaev said he raised the issue with U.S. officials who visited him earlier in the week in his home in Dagestan.
“I asked them: ‘I saw my child alive, he was being put into a police vehicle alive and healthy. How come media said he was killed?’ They were shocked themselves,” the father said.
The Tsarnaevs are ethnic Chechens who lived in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan and in Dagestan before emigrating to the United States with their children. The parents returned to Dagestan two years ago, and Tamerlan spent the first half of 2012 there.
The suspects’ mother, Zubeidat, was with Anzor Tsarnaev in the village but did not wish to speak.
“She is ill, she is shocked, she is depressed. She lost her children,” Tsarnaev said. The couple are divorced but have stayed together.
Although the Tsarnaev brothers have roots in Dagestan and neighbouring Chechnya, neither had spent much time there until Tamerlan returned to Dagestan last year for six months.
During his interview, Anzor Tsarnaev denied Tamerlan had any contact with militants during his stay, painting an idyllic picture of his son’s visit to his ancestral homeland.
“When he came to stay here, he was a good boy. He read books, (Leo) Tolstoy, (Alexandre) Dumas and thick English language books. He would wake up late and read all day, late into the night,” he said.
“Sometimes we went to the mosque. We went to see our relatives, in Dagestan, in Chechnya. We visited a lot of households, it was a nice atmosphere.”
Tsarnaev said he had to force his son to return to the United States to complete his U.S. citizenship application after Tamerlan tried to convince his family to allow him to stay in Dagestan for good.
“I told him: ‘No, you have to go back to obtain your U.S. citizenship’. I forced him to go back. I thought it was the right thing to do. I shouldn’t have done that,” he said with a pained expression on his face.
The father said he had no hope that Tamerlan’s body would be released by the U.S. authorities to be buried in his homeland.
“They won’t give us his body,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion. “We won’t be able to bury him in our land.”
Writing by Maria Golovnina