The mother of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects had been added to a federal terrorism database about 18 months before the attack, government officials said Thursday.
Two government officials said the CIA had Zubeidat Tsarnaeva's name added along with that of her son Tamerlan Tsarnaev after Russia contacted the agency in 2011 with concerns that the two were religious militants about to travel to Russia. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.
Being in the classified TIDE database does not automatically mean a person is suspected by the U.S. of terrorist activity and does not automatically subject someone to surveillance, security screening or travel restrictions. But the disclosure could fuel more questions about whether the Obama administration missed an opportunity to thwart the deadly bombing.
The news came as the surviving bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was moved overnight from a hospital to a federal prison medical center, and as FBI agents searched for evidence in a landfill near the college he was attending.
Tsarnaev, 19, was taken from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he was recovering from a gunshot wound to the throat and other injuries suffered during a getaway attempt, and transferred to the Federal Medical Center Devens, about 40 miles from Boston, the U.S. Marshals Service said. The facility at the former Fort Devens Army base treats federal prisoners.
FBI agents picked through a landfill Friday near the campus of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where Tsarnaev was a student. FBI spokesman Jim Martin would not say what investigators were looking for.
Tsarnaev is charged with joining with his older brother, now dead, in setting off the shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bombs that killed three people and wounded more than 260 at the marathon finish line April 15.
The brothers are ethnic Chechens from Russia who came to the U.S. about a decade ago with their parents. Investigators have said it appears that the brothers were angry about the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and had been radicalized via Islamic jihadi material on the Internet instead of any direct contact with terrorist organizations, but they warned it is still not certain.
A team of investigators from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has questioned both parents in Makhachkala, Russia, this week, spending many hours with the mother in particular over two days. The suspects' father, Anzor Tsarnaev, said the questions were mostly about their sons' activities and interests.
The father said on Thursday that he is leaving Russia soon for the United States to visit one son and lay the other to rest. The suspects' mother, who was charged with shoplifting in the U.S. last summer, said she has been assured by lawyers that she would not be arrested, but said she was still deciding whether to go.
At a news conference in Russia, Tsarnaeva bitterly said she now regrets moving her family to the U.S. and believes they would have been better off in a village in her native Dagestan.
"You know, my kids would be with us, and we would be, like, fine," she said. "So, yes, I would prefer not to live in America now! Why did I even go there? Why? I thought America is going to, like, protect us, our kids, it's going to be safe."
Also on Thursday, officials said that three days after the Boston attack, the Tsarnaev brothers planned to drive to New York and bomb Times Square in a spur-of-the-moment scheme that fell apart almost immediately when they realized the SUV they had hijacked was low on gas. They had five pipe bombs and a pressure-cooker explosive in the vehicle, police said.
"We don't know if we would have been able to stop the terrorists had they arrived here from Boston," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "We're just thankful that we didn't have to find out that answer."
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told interrogators from his hospital bed that he and his brother decided the night of April 18 to launch an attempt in New York. But when the Tsarnaev brothers stopped at a gas station on the outskirts of Boston, the carjacking victim they were holding hostage escaped and called police, Kelly said.
Later that night, police intercepted the brothers in a gunbattle that left 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead.
The word of a short-lived plan to bomb Times Square made some New Yorkers shudder at the thought of another terrorist attack on the city.
Outside Penn Station, Wayne Harris, a schoolteacher from Queens, said: "We don't know when a terrorist attack will happen next in New York, but it will happen. It didn't happen this time, by the grace of God. God protected us this time."