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Russia's Islamist rebels say not at war with Washington

By Thomas Grove

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A group leading an Islamist insurgency against Russia said on Sunday it was not at war with the United States, distancing itself from last week's Boston Marathon bombing.

Ethnic Chechen Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed in a gunfight with police following a manhunt that shut down Boston on Friday, and his younger brother Dzhokhar, 19, are suspected of carrying out the attack last week.

A trip the elder Tsarnaev made last year to Russia's volatile North Caucasus, a mountainous region that stretches nearly between the Caspian and Black Seas, has aroused suspicions he might have made contact with militant groups that wage daily violence to establish an Islamist state there.

A statement from militants operating in Dagestan, where the brothers spent time as children, said the Caucasus Emirate which leads the insurgency and is headed by Russia's most wanted man Doku Umarov was not targeting the United States.

"Caucasian mujahideen are not carrying out military actions against the United States. We are fighting with Russia, which is responsible not only for the occupation of the Caucasus but for monstrous crimes against Muslims," said the statement, which did not outright deny any links with the attacks or Tamerlan.

Media reports have said U.S. investigators are looking to see if there is a link between Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the Chechen-born Umarov, who was placed on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorists in 2010.

Insurgent violence, rooted in two separatist wars between Russian troops and Chechen separatists following the fall of the Soviet Union, occurs regularly across the North Caucasus near Sochi, where Moscow plans to hold the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The statement also went to pains to raise suspicions that Russian security forces were involved in Boston attacks.

"If the U.S. government is really interested in finding the real organizers of the explosions in Boston ... then they should focus on the involvement of the Russian special services in the events," the statement read without offering details.

The statement also cited a previously-released video in which Umarov, one of the last surviving original leaders of the Chechen rebellion that began in the early 1990s, issued a moratorium on attacks on civilians in Russia.

"Even regarding our enemy, the government of Russia, with which the Caucasus Emirate is fighting, the order from the Emir of the Caucasus Emirate Doku Umarov remains valid prohibiting strikes against civilian targets," the statement read.

The Caucasus Emirate claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport in January 2011 that killed 37 people and for suicide bombings on the Moscow subway that killed 40 people in 2010.

Although 124 people have died in the North Caucasus since the beginning of this year, according to website Caucasian Knot, which tracks the violence, the vast majority of deaths have been militants and security officers.

A combination of religious fervor and anger over corruption and strong arm tactics by local Kremlin-backed rulers against suspected militants are mostly responsible for driving youth into the ranks of the insurgency.

(Reporting by Thomas Grove; Editing by Jason Webb)

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