When Tamerlan Tsarnaev went to Dagestan for six months, a period of time the FBI is scrutinizing in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, he didn't seem like an extremist looking for guidance. Rather, according to people who spent time with him there, he seemed like a young man struggling to find his way, the New York Times reports. He slept in, spent time with family and at home, and helped his father with a store he was renovating. He told his aunt, "The people here are completely different. They pray different," and said that he was happy to be able to hear the call to prayer "from all sides." “What, you can’t hear the mosques there in America?” she asked. "Something like that," he replied.
By then, Tsarnaev had already turned to a more hardline version of Islam, giving up alcohol, praying five times a day, and growing a beard. But the picture painted by friends, family members, and neighbors includes some inconsistencies—why, for example, would he sleep late instead of going to morning prayers? How could he pray five times a day if, as one family friend recalls, "he didn't go anywhere" and spent all his time helping his father? One thing is certain, notes the Times: His time in Dagestan, where he had also lived for much of his teenage years, was marked by violence. Islamic insurgents are active in the region, and there were an average of two or three fatal bombings each month he was there. But the Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate, a terrorist group in the area, denies that Tsarnaev joined up. "[We] are not fighting against the United States of America," the group says in a statement. “We are at war with Russia."