A Profile of Mahmud Mansur Nidal: The Alleged Dagestani Connection to Boston Bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev; Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 0 Issue: 0

May 3, 2013 08:27 AM Age: 3 days

In connection with the tragic events in Boston, some Western journalists have started pursuing sensational angles to the story concerning the purported ties between the alleged elder Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsnarnaev, and a Dagestani militant who went by the name of Mahmud Mansur Nidal (see ABC News, April 30).  Nidal’s name recently surfaced in connection to Tamerlan, who visited Dagestan in 2012 and reportedly made contact with this deceased Dagestani militant. 

Nidal was born in the Dagestani city of Buinaksk in 1992 (http://polit.ru/news/2012/05/20/insurgent/). The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta first broke the story about Nidal’s ties to Tamerlane, which argued that the Dagestani militant was a key contact of the elder Tsarnaev brother during his 2012 visit to the mountainous Russian republic of Dagestan.  While some newspapers and Western media have incorrectly reported that Nidal is an ethnic Chechen, he is actually from Dagestan and is half ethnic Kumyk and half Palestinian (www.novayagazeta.ru/inquests/57925.html).  The Kumyks—the third largest ethnic group in the republic of Dagestan—are a Turkic speaking people who are of Mongol descent.

Whatever ties existed between Tamerlan and Nidal, they did not last long.  Mahmud Mansur Nidal was 19 years old when he was killed in a police operation in Makhachkala on May 19, 2012 (http://lenta.ru/news/2012/05/19/end/). He put up his last fight at his home, located on 1b, Yubileinaya Street in Makhachkala, which the Dagestani police surrounded on the evening of May 18. Apart from Nidal, also present in the domicile were Mansur’s mother, Zarina, Mansur’s spouse, Maryam (a.k.a. Anzhela) Dolgatova, with their two-month-old infant, along with their guests, Fatima Nurmagomedova and her husband, Abdurakhman Magomedov.

Following many hours of negotiations, the women and children were allowed to leave the house. Abdurakhman Magomedov also surrendered to the authorities. However, Mansur Nidal refused to surrender and fought the police forces and was subsequently killed by the security services as they stormed the building (http://moidagestan.ru/news/antiterror/16933).

According to Dagestani police reports, by December 2011, Mansur Nidal was accused of being a member of the Shamilkala (a.k.a. Makhachkala) Jamaat. The police suspected Nidal of participating in several killings, bomb attacks and assaults on government forces, including an attack on a police checkpoint in Makhachakala on May 3, 2012. In that specific terrorist attack, which was carried out by suicide bombers, 13 people died and over a hundred were injured (www.gazeta.ru/news/seealso/2326593.shtml).  Mansur Nidal denied his involvement in this attack to the police in the midst of their siege of his home, stating that he had been out of town that day.

Unofficial sources allege that during the special operation at Nidal’s home, a crowd of 150–200 young people attempted to prevent the police from storming the building (http://ummanews.com/news/kavkaz/6972-2012-05-20-11-22-33.html). The protesters blocked the street where the police operation was taking place. This type of behavior by civilians is quite unusual for Makhachkala.

A prominent journalist from the Russian paper Novaya Gazeta earlier this week attempted to connect Nidal to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the two brothers accused of setting off bombs at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. It is difficult to imagine that an American who had no friends in Makhachkala, who knew no one locally except his relatives in the city, could simply meet someone like the suspected militant Nidal without arousing the suspicions of the Russian security services. Even a native Russian visitor from Moscow would be under total surveillance by the local security services while visiting Makhachkala—not to mention a visitor from the United States.

Furthermore, the claim that Mansur Nidal joined the insurgency at the age of 19, implies that he must have gone underground before Tamerlan Tsarnaev had even arrived in Makhachkala. The suggestion that a person can simply and casually stroll the streets of Makhachkala and befriend a militant is absurd.

Having joined the ranks of the jamaat, it is highly improbable that Mahmud Mansur Nidal would have allowed himself to risk all his contacts for the sake of some newcomer from the United States, such as Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  Members of the underground jamaats in the North Caucasus simply do not scurry around and recruit new people in the open. They instead rely on underground recruitment networks where potential militants are thoroughly vetted before being approached, particularly in Dagestan where the Russian intelligence services have an extensive network of agents and informants.

Basic recruitment tasks by the jammats in the North Caucasus are normally assigned to very different individuals who determine whether the person is fit to become the jamaat’s member. Members of the jamaat in Dagestan rely on the narrow circle of their close friends and associates in order to move from one location to another. Even though the Dagestani jamaat is called “the forest brothers,” its members primarily reside within urban areas, unlike the Chechen rebels who operate in the safety of mountainous retreats and Chechnya’s numerous forests.  In fact, that is why nearly 99 out of 100 police operations in Dagestan are normally carried out in Dagestani cities or villages rather than in mountainous areas.

An analogous though separate hypothesis that Tamerlan Tsarnaev met 22-year-old William Plotnikov is also highly dubious. William Plotnikov was born in the Tyumen region of Russia and then moved to Toronto, Canada. Being an ethnic Russian, he converted to Islam, went to Dagestan to participate in jihad and was killed in July 2012 (www.ntv.ru/novosti/312762/). Plotnikov would also have been underground by the time Tamerlan Tsarnaev arrived in Dagestan, which makes the probability of the two meeting in Makhachkala close to zero because of the high risk of being detected by the Russian intelligence services.

The Moscow papers’ stories about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s visit to Georgia (http://izvestia.ru/news/549252), about his contacts with Mansur Mahmud Nidal (www.novayagazeta.ru/inquests/57925.html), or even his possible contacts with the Canadian William Plotnikov (http://www.mk.ru/social/article/2013/05/01/849704-amerikanskoe-sledstvie-izuchaet-kontaktyi-tamerlana-tsarnaeva-na-severnom-kavkaze-s-kanadskim-dzhihadistom.html) are nothing more than attempts to deflect attention from what Tamerlan Tsarnaev was really doing on his last visit to Russia.