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Boston bombing suspects' father 'a good man,' neighbors in Dagestan say

Reuters TV / Reuters

Anzor Tsarnaev gives an interview in Makhachkala, April 19, 2013.

MAKHACHKALA, DAGESTAN – In the year and a half that Anzar Tsarnaev has lived on Oleg Koshevoi Street, the father of the two Boston marathon bombing suspects has made a positive impression on some of his neighbors.

"Anzar has always helped me," said Raisa Gorbacheva. The 50-year old cleaning lady is a single mother holding down two jobs in the Dagestani capital.

"He has given me advice," she said, for house repairs and renovations.

"I don't believe it's possible that his sons could have been responsible" for the marathon bombings, she continued. "Because the father is such a good man."

But Gorbacheva said she never met the sons, definitely not the 26-year-old Tamerlan who is believed to have spent six months last year visiting his father.

"I don't believe he was in full comprehension of what he was doing," Ruslan Tsarni, uncle of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, told Savannah Guthrie.

"I never saw him here," she said.

Another neighbor who did not identify himself also said he had never seen Tamerlan either, but regularly saw the father, one of several thousand Chechens living in the Dagestani capital.

Outside the apartment block where Anzar Tsarnaev keeps a home, there is also an empty shop space that the father is trying to sell. A large red banner advertising its sale with his cell phone number decorates the front of the shuttered store.

Neighbors also said Tsarnaev paid for and built an orange and yellow brick pavement outside the shop.

"Everybody says Dagestan this, Dagestan that," said Gorbacheva. "But this is a place of good people, neighbors who help each other."

Dagestan is Russia's southernmost republic, some 1,200 miles away from Moscow, and situated in the Northern Caucasus.

With a population of under three million, it's predominantly Muslim. In fact, Dagestan is considered the oldest, largest and most ethnically diverse Islamic republic within the Russian Federation.

Despite a troubled historical relationship with Moscow – Dagestanis have resisted Russian rule for three centuries – the republic is considered a supporter of the Russian government. This is in stark contrast to its neighbors like Ingushetia or Chechnya, which fought two wars against the Russians in the 1990s.

But in recent years Chechen militants have crossed over the porous border to bring their violent separatist campaign to Dagestan.

Analysts say the spillover of militant extremists and the attempt to forge a pan-Muslim union across the North Caucasus has provoked a heavy-handed response from Russia. 

It hasn't stopped cities like Makhachkala from becoming more Islamic. Local residents say more women have begun wearing the hijab to cover their head and sometimes their face. And journalists visiting the region say they have noticed the number of mosques has risen quickly in just the past couple of years.

But people who know the Tsarnaevs say the family was not part of the trend toward Islamization. 

"They don't seem too religious," said Gorbacheva, the neighbor. "They didn't have long beards. They were like ordinary Muslims."

A cousin of Zubeidat Tsarnaev – the suspects' mother who is originally from Dagestan – said of the family, "They didn't even pray."

"I have doubts about what really happened in Boston," said Abdurashid Patakhov, the cousin and a former policeman.  "It's impossible to believe."

Patakhov said his cousin's family had endured a very difficult life.

"They were an exiled family," he said, describing Aznar's move from Chechnya to Kyrgyzstan to Dagestan during the sons' young lives.  "He [the father] wanted a better life for the children. That's why he went to the United States."

"But the horns of a devil grow everywhere," he added.

Meanwhile, On Sunday, the "Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate's Province of Dagestan" put out a statement distancing themselves from the the actions the Tsarnaev brothers are accused of, saying, "the Caucasian Mujahideen are not fighting against the United States of America. We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims."

The statement continued, "also, remember that even in respect to the enemy state of Russia, which is fighting the Caucasus Emirate, there is an order by the Emir Dokku Umarov, which prohibits strikes on civilian targets."