As investigators searched for a motive in the Boston Marathon bombings, the two brothers suspected in the attack emerged as markedly different personalities: the older moving closer toward Islamic fundamentalism, the younger socializing like a typical American college student.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, disrupted a service with an outburst during a sermon at the Islamic Society of Boston in January, raising concerns among the congregation, Anwar Kazmi, a member of the group’s board of trustees, said in an interview yesterday. Tsarnaev objected to the idea that both Martin Luther King Jr. and the Prophet Muhammad could be mentioned in the same context as sources of inspiration, Kazmi said.
“It’s out of etiquette for Friday prayers,” Kazmi said. “You’re not supposed to interrupt or speak.”
School acquaintances described Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 19, as a normal kid who liked to hang out with friends, sometimes drinking or smoking marijuana. Two days after the bomb attacks, he described himself as “a stress-free kind of guy” on his Twitter account.
“He was a regular kid,” said Zach Bettencourt, 20, a classmate at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “When I see his picture on the news, I still can’t believe it. I just can’t believe anything they say he did.”
Dzhokar Tsarnaev was in “serious but stable” condition at a Boston hospital, the U.S. Attorney’s office said today in a Twitter message. Unable to speak because of his wounds, he is communicating by pad and paper and is providing useful information to investigators, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked for anonymity to discuss it.
Federal prosecutors haven’t yet charged Dzhokar and didn’t say when they will.
“The information we have is that there was a shot to the throat, and it’s questionable when and whether he’ll be able to talk again,” Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told ABC News’ “This Week” program.
Investigators believe the gunshot wound to Tsarnaev’s neck may be from a suicide attempt, according to a U.S. official who requested anonymity to discuss the investigation.
The brothers are accused of the April 15 attack on America’s most storied road-running race, planting two bombs near the finish line that killed three spectators and injured more than 170. After a police chase and shootout that left Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead in the early morning of April 19, his brother fled. Officials locked down Boston and surrounding towns for much of that day, and Dzhokar Tsarnaev was captured after dark hiding in a trailered boat in the backyard of a home in nearby Watertown, Massachusetts.
“The real question here is how do you tell when someone gets radicalized?” Richard Clarke, President Bill Clinton’s chief counter-terrorism adviser on the National Security Council, told ABC News. “They’re normal, they’re happy kids in Cambridge, and then something happens, a switch is flipped.”
The Russian government was so concerned that Tamerlan Tsarnaev harbored extremist Islamist beliefs that they asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to question him in 2011. The Russian request advised U.S. authorities that he “was a follower of radical Islam” and had “changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared” for a trip to Russia, raising fears he planned “to join unspecified underground groups,” the FBI said on its website.
The FBI said it found no evidence of terrorist activity at that time.
After the Boston mosque outburst, elders spoke to the older brother about the incident and he seemed to “accept what they were saying,” Kazmi said. Tamerlan Tsarnaev continued to attend occasional services, and his younger brother appeared at the mosque once. The older brother was friendly with some worshipers and showed no sign of having become radicalized, Kazmi said.
The brothers and their two sisters came to the U.S. from the Russian region of Dagestan in 2002, after having been refugees from the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan. They followed their parents, who had been granted political asylum in the U.S., said a State Department official who asked not to be identified to discuss the case. While the family is of Chechnyan descent, the brothers had not lived in the war-ravaged region, part of the Russian federation.
The new FBI-led probe is paying close attention to a six- month trip the older brother took in 2012 to Chechnya and neighboring Dagestan, which have been embroiled in Islamist separatist movements. The agency didn’t follow up with a second interview after Tamerlan Tsarnaev returned to the U.S.
“There are questions that have to be answered,” Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “This man was pointed out by a foreign government to be dangerous. He was interviewed by the FBI once. What did they find out? What did they miss? Then he went to Russia and to Chechnya. Why wasn’t he interviewed when he came back?”
Bettencourt, the University of Massachusetts student, said he saw Dzhokar Tsarnaev at the campus gym the day after the bombing. “I talked to him about it like he was a regular kid,” Bettencourt said. He recalled Dzhokar Tsarnaev saying, “Tragedies happen.”
The younger Tsarnaev was known to drink and smoke pot, said Ty Barros, 21, a high school classmate. He also loved sports and had many friends, said Barros, who estimated that he “hung out” with Dzhokar about a dozen times or more.
A video posted April 9 on Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s page on the V kontakte social-networking site called “For those who have a heart” is about the Syrian civil war.
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“They’re killing your brothers and sisters without any reason, just because they say ‘our god is Allah’ and ‘Mohammed is our prophet,” it says, asking people to help the Syrians.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev said in a 2010 article in The Comment, the graduate student magazine of Boston University’s College of Communication, that he doesn’t doesn’t drink or smoke.
“God said no alcohol,” the magazine quoted him as saying.
Dzhokar Tsarnaev became a naturalized U.S. citizen on Sept. 11, 2012, according to an official briefed on the matter who asked not to be identified because the probe is in progress.
His older brother, a legal permanent U.S. resident, had an application for U.S. citizenship placed on hold after the FBI had questioned him. He had been arrested in 2009 on an assault and battery charge and wasn’t convicted, according to Stephanie Guyotte, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex County, Massachusetts, district attorney.
The older Tsarnaev was a legal resident of the U.S. when he traveled to Russia in January 2012. During the six-month trip to Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region, he became more deeply involved in Islam, said his aunt, Patimat Suleimanova, 62, in interviews with reporters in Makhachkala, Dagestan.
He had been under FBI surveillance for at least three years, said the suspects’ mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, in a phone interview with Russian state television from Makhachkala.
The FBI closed its investigation after it had “checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans,” it said in a statement.
After interviews with the older brother and his family, “the FBI did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign, and those results were provided to the foreign government in the summer of 2011,” the bureau said.
The two brothers displayed an amateurish modus operandi, failing to disguise themselves from cameras, suggesting they were motivated by feelings of social alienation as immigrants in the U.S., said Philip Mudd, a former CIA deputy director in the agency’s Counterterrorist Center.
“They didn’t have an after-action plan,” Mudd said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program yesterday. “This looks more to me like Columbine than it does like al-Qaeda,” he told “Fox News Sunday,” referring to the 1999 high school shootings in Columbine, Colorado, by two teenage boys that killed 12 students and a teacher, and wounded 21.
Prosecutors in Boston could rely on the same laws used successfully in deadly terrorist acts such as the Oklahoma City bombing and the first World Trade Center attack.
Terrorism cases brought over the past 20 years show there are a number of federal statutes that could be applied, including counts of conspiracy to use or actual use of a weapon of mass destruction, both of which are punishable by death. While Massachusetts law prohibits the death penalty, federal law provides that capital punishment may be imposed for murders committed during acts of terrorism.
The funeral for one of the Boston bombing victims, Krystle Campbell, 29, is scheduled for today. Other killed were Martin Richard, 8, and Lu Lingzi, a 23-year-old graduate student from China. Police said Sean Collier, 26, a police officer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was killed in his squad car by the brothers on the night of the shootout.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick called for a moment of silence across the state to honor the victims and their families. It will be held at 2:50 p.m. local time, when the bombs went off during the marathon.
To contact the reporters on this story: Henry Goldman in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org; Julie Bykowicz in Washington at email@example.com; Prashant Gopal in Boston at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at email@example.com; Larry Edelman at firstname.lastname@example.org