Home World U.S. News Katherine Russell converted to Islam as husband Tamerlan Tsarnaev “brainwashed” her

Katherine Russell converted to Islam as husband Tamerlan Tsarnaev “brainwashed” her

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Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife, Katherine Russell, was “an all-American girl who was brainwashed” by her extremist husband, a schoolfriend claimed today.

According to those who knew her best, Katherine Russell was “totally transformed” by Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Katherine Russell’s high school personal motto was: “Do something about it or stop complaining”.

She dreamed of going to college and joining the Peace Corps.

She urged her friends to “lighten up and enjoy the small things”, in life.

But she met Tamerlan Tsarneav, a disenfranchised man who came to America from his troubled homeland of Chechnya who rapidly had her in his thrall.

By the time she was 21, Katherine Russell had married him and borne his child, Zahara, now 3. She had converted to Islam, hidden her tumble of chestnut hair beneath the hijab and undergone a change so profound that today few friends profess to truly understand it.

Yesterday Katherine Russell, who has been staying at her parents’ home in Rhode Island, returned to the Cambridge, Massachusetts, home which she shared with late husband Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Dressed in a leopard print hijab Katherine Russell darted into the white shingle house to collect some belongings and her pet cat while her daughter waited in the car.

Today Katherine Russell was back home, accompanied by armed federal agents who first interviewed her and her family on Friday.

Shortly before 6 p.m. on Sunday three law enforcement agents – two men, one woman – all wearing dark sunglasses delivered a package to the Russell’s family home.

Katherine Russell’s mother Judith was initially reluctant to answer the front door, opening it fully only after requesting that the officers, thought to be Federal Agents, showed their credentials.

Their presence raises the question how much did Katherine Russell know about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s activities and links?

Katherine Russell’s awareness of her then husband’s movements, thoughts and plans is under intense scrutiny as her relation to the Boston bomber and her proximity to both brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, makes her a key witness – witting or otherwise.

After all she was living with Tamerlan Tsarnaev when he travelled to Makhachkala in 2011 – a trip now attracting the interest of investigators trying to establish whether he met with Gaczhimurad Dolgatov at that time.

Gaczhimurad Dolgatov was a Dagestani jihadist who died in 2012 after a vicious stand-off with Russian security services.

As it has already been revealed, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was on the FBI’s radar during that time as they were asked to look into his potential links to extremist groups.

None who knew Katherine Russell as a child could have dreamed that this would be the face she would one day present to the world, nor that her life and those of so many Bostonians would be so violently caught up with two brothers from Chechnya and a cause as unclear as it was brutal.

Katherine Russell's awareness of Tamerlan Tsarnaev's movements, thoughts and plans is under intense scrutiny, making her a key witness

Katherine Russell’s awareness of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s movements, thoughts and plans is under intense scrutiny, making her a key witness

As a girl growing up in Rhode Island Katherine Russell was known to her friends as Katie. One school friend who asked not to be named recalled: “I saw her like a few months ago and she was just totally transformed. She was not the same person at all.”

Another agreed: “She was just this All-American girl who was brainwashed by her super-religious husband. Nobody understands what happened to her.

“None of us would have dreamed that she would marry so young or drop out of college and have a baby or convert or be part of any of what’s happened.”

The friend said: “She’s just not the same person at all.”

It would be hard to imagine a childhood more rooted in America’s pilgrim heritage than Katherine Russell’s. It is in there in the names of the towns – Plymouth, Dorset, Greenwich –where many of her friends still live and writ large in the wholesome values of the one-time Honors student’s home life.

The eldest of three daughters, to emergency physician Dr. Warren Russell and nurse Judith, hers is a background steeped in the values of family and education.

Katherine Russell attended Daisyville Middle School, North Kingstown. As a sixth grader she is pictured smiling from the pages of the 2001-2002 yearbook dedicated to The North Kingstown Police and Fire Departments in the wake of 9/11. – a date, the opening dedication reads: “Forever in our minds.”

A section of the book is titled, Enduring Freedom, as the school, along with the rest of the nation, refused to be cowed by the acts of terror that hit the homeland on September 11, 2001.

In 2004, Katherine Russell progressed to North Kingstown High School.

She took part gamely in the school’s Mismatch/Bad Hair Day; she dressed up for Hawaiian day though the occasion fell in a chilly October.

She was a member of the Dance Team and the Art Club. In 11th grade she was awarded a Silver Key for a rather odd image of a cat, lashing out at a mouse in a ballet shoe. Her favorite food was Pad Thai.

Katherine Russell competed with her peers in Class Color Day that ended with a Pep Rally in which seas of the school colors, green, blue, red, black and gold filled the stands at the playing field.


One classmate who remembers Katherine Russell from those early days said: “The thing that’s so shocking is that there was nothing at all that made Katherine different.

“Her parents are nice people, her sisters are great girls. But she met this guy, I guess, and everything changed.”

Katherine Russell was a student at Sussex University, Boston, when she met Tamerlan Tsarnaev, then a promising boxer and athlete.

It was during that time that she converted and her youthful priorities appear to have changed as she left in 2010 without graduating.

By then her relationship with Tamerlan Tsarnaev was intense. Not even his arrest for violently assaulting her in 2009 could change that.

According to Cambridge City Police Department, the incident which took place in July at the Massachusetts home Katherine Russell once shared with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, when interviewed she described him as “a very nice man”.

Certainly Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a man whose influence on Katherine Russell’s life would prove profound.

There is only one odd and unsettling inclusion in her own entry in her graduation High School Yearbook.

Asked to provide a quotation Katherine Russell settled on one that would surely chime with the extremist views of her late husband.

“Don’t take anything for granted,” Katherine Russell advises, before quoting a line from David Bowie’s Quicksand: “Don’t believe in yourself, don’t deceive with belief,” the baffling lines run.

“Knowledge comes from death’s release.”