US

Media downplay Tsarnaev connection to Muslim student group

Coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing has ignored admitted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s connection to his college’s Muslim Student Association, a group that has close relations with both the Muslim Brotherhood and a local imam friendly with an al-Qaida operative.

Although a student leader and the mainstream media have downplayed Tsarnaev’s ties to the the group, Tsarnaev associated frequently with the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

The Washington Post on April 27 reported that Tsarnaev, who has admitted his role in the Marathon terrorist bombing to police, played intramural soccer with MSA members, contradicting earlier reports that the U. Mass-Dartmouth student spurned an invitation to join the controversial Muslim Brotherhood-linked student organization.

“For a time, Jahar played on an intramural soccer team composed of students involved with the campus Muslim Student Association,” explained the Post’s Marc Fisher, a fact that has since been missing from coverage.

In fact, Tsarnaev played soccer with the Muslim Student Association nearly every week, according to MSA Secretary Bassel Nasri in an interview with George Stephanopoulos and Diane Sawyer on April 19, 2013. Nasri simply neglected to say they were MSA games. Although Stephanopoulos described Nasri as “a soccer buddy” of Tsarnaev, neither he nor Sawyer mentioned that they were co-religionists and that the soccer games were organized by the Muslim Student Association.

Nasri was later interviewed by CNN and again didn’t mention that he had known Tsarnaev through the Muslim Student Association’s weekly soccer games.

“We used to play soccer together,” Nasri told Piers Morgan. “We used to hang out a few times. We weren’t too close — we were more acquaintances than friends. But he was really mostly a pretty good guy in that sense. He would always like ask for — if you needed any help with anything. So I’m really surprised at the outcome of what happened in the past week or so.”

A day later, Nasri told 60 Minutes that he tried to recruit Tsarnaev to the Muslim Student Association, without any luck. He left out that the soccer games where Tsarnaev was a regular player were MSA activities. He even seemed to suggest to Scott Pelley that had Tsarnaev joined MSA more seriously, the bombing wouldn’t have happened. According to the 60 Minutes report:

These friends saw him two weeks ago. He was a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Ahmad Nassri and Bassel Nasri tried, without luck to get him to join the MSA, the Muslim Student Association.

Scott Pelley: Did you see him at mosque? You see him at prayers? Nothing like that?

Group: No.

Bassel Nasri: No, unfortunately.

Scott Pelley: Unfortunately?

Bassel Nasri: I would’ve loved for him to come to the MSA a few times so he can maybe understand his religion better. Maybe that would, that would’ve helped in what happened, I would say.

Assuming Nasri is telling the truth — he, along with half a dozen other MSA members and their faculty sponsor, Neil Fennessey, did not return request for comments — he is wrong about the Muslim Student Association’s not being a haven for radicalism, explains David Reaboi, vice president of strategic communications at the Center for Security Policy.