TODAY

TODAY   |  April 25, 2013

Relatives say bombing suspect was ‘brainwashed’

Family members believe Boston bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was brainwashed into following a strict strain of Islam by a friend, causing him to drop out of school and quit boxing to become more devout. NBC’s Jeff Rossen reports.

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>>> there are new details in the boston bombing investigation. learning more about the suspect's past. and why u.s. officials closed a case on tamerlan tsarnaev years before the attack. jeff rossen is in boston for us once again. jeff, good morning.

>> reporter: good morning to you. standing on boylston street here in boston , the site of the attack. and you can see a giant memorial has been set up for the victims, and we have been watching people come here day and night to pay their respects. meanwhile, as that happens, there are new developments once again in the investigation. overnight atf investigators descended on a convenience store in boston -- i'm sorry in watertown, massachusetts. that is the same town where the shootout happened. the store clerk tells our boston affiliate whdh, investigators found empty fireworks in the garbage outside. the gun powder was removed. that's an important development because the older suspect bought fireworks before the bombing and the younger suspect had told investigators they were reading an online al qaeda magazine that included bomb-making instructions for how to use fireworks. we're looking into that. also, investigators are trying to put the time line together of when the older brother tamerlan became an extremist and why he became an extremist. digging into his past. and this morning, relatives say they have an idea.

>> reporter: tamerlan tsarnaev may have been brainwashed, relatives say by a mystery friend named misha who followed a thick strain of islam. they say tamerlan dropped out of school and quit boxing saying they were incompatible with islam, a radical change in behavior.

>> investigators will continue to look at exactly how the individuals were radicalized. that's a key point because it goes to how the federal bureau of investigation and local police might detect individuals before they actually mobilize to violence.

>> reporter: but what about the younger brother dzhokhar? doing the robot dance as seen here. relatives say dzhokhar was completely obedient to his brother and believed tamerlan turned him into a terrorist.

>> i can't stress enough to anyone how normal of a kid he was.

>> reporter: for a time, authorities had tamerlan on their radar. u.s. officials say in march 2011 , the russians fled the fbi , that tamerlan was becoming a radical. the fbi asked the russians for more information, but officials say the russians didn't respond. the fbi ran checks and found no ties to terror. closing the case. but putting him on a travel watch list . september 2011 , the russians flagged tamerlan again as a radical, this time to the cia. officials say the cia contacted the fbi who once again asked the russians for information. but officials say still no response. january 2012 , tamerlan flew to moscow setting off an alert in that travel data base . but authorities took no action because the case was closed. when he returned to the u.s. six months later, no alert at all. raising the ire of some republicans wednesday.

>> we need to ask why is the obama administration failing in its mission to stop terrorism before it reaches its targets in the united states ?

>> reporter: democrats and republicans now say they want to get to the bottom of this and they want answers. one other note, savannah, right now, the suspects' parents at this hour are holding a news conference in russia. and the father just said he plans to fly to u.s. today, he doesn't have a plane ticket yet, but he wants to, to claim his older son tamerlan 's body.