Obama Vows U.S. Probe to Find Motives for Boston Bombing

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks from the White House about the capture of Dzhokar Tsarnaev on April 19, 2013. Close

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks from the White House about the capture of Dzhokar... Read More

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Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks from the White House about the capture of Dzhokar Tsarnaev on April 19, 2013.

Channeling the nation’s relief, President Barack Obama said the capture of the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect capped an “important chapter of this tragedy” while spurring a search into the motives and potential terrorist links behind the blasts.

“All in all, this has been a tough week, but we’ve seen the character of our country once more,” Obama said at the White House in a nighttime statement after a day of staying publicly silent as an almost 24-hour manhunt unfolded.

The capture yesterday of Dzhokar Tsarnaev in Watertown, Massachusetts, shortly before the president spoke left “many unanswered questions,” Obama said. While cautioning against a “rush to judgment,” he said the investigation will seek to find out why two young men who studied in the U.S. would turn to such violence.

“The families of those killed so senselessly deserve answers,” Obama said, as do “the wounded -- some of whom now have to learn how to stand and walk and live again.”

Tsarnaev, 19, was taken into custody following a manhunt that paralyzed Boston and its suburbs for much of the day. His older brother, Tamerlan, 26, died in a confrontation with police in Watertown the previous night after the shooting death of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus officer. The brothers had been pursued as the suspects in the April 15 bombings that killed three people and injured more than 170.

FBI Briefing

“Whatever hateful agenda drove these men to such heinous acts will not -- cannot -- prevail,” Obama said. “Whatever they thought they could ultimately achieve, they’ve already failed.”

The president learned of the capture while watching television in the White House residential area, then went to the Oval Office, where he received a briefing call from FBI Director Robert Mueller.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said “the thanks of a grateful nation” was going to “every single federal, state, and local law enforcement official who went above and beyond to apprehend” the younger Tsarnaev.

“It was a job well done under trying circumstances, to say the least,” the Ohio Republican said in a statement from Washington.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement from Louisville that, “We have marveled at the coordination, skill, and bravery of military, intelligence, and law enforcement officials at every level -- from federal agents to suburban beat cops to the campus police officer at MIT who gave his life in the line of duty.”

Texas Explosion

Last night’s capture culminated an extraordinary week of anxiety and rapid-fire developments that began with the bombings near the marathon’s finish line and ended with Tsarnaev found hiding in a boat in a suburban backyard.

In between, the discovery of ricin-laced letters sent to officials in Washington -- including Obama -- set the nation’s capital on edge, and the small town of West, Texas, suffered devastation with an April 17 fertilizer-plant explosion that killed at least 14 people and injured at least 200.

Obama mentioned that blast during his White House statement and moments later declared a state of emergency in Texas, granting federal aid to supplement state and local resources.

Even as congressional leaders joined Obama in responding with elation and praise for law enforcement following Tsarnaev’s capture, the potential political ripple effects of the Boston bombings for his presidency and legislative agenda began to reverberate.

Prosecuting Tsarnaev

Lawmakers said they would turn a fresh focus to combating homegrown terrorism in the days to come, raised questions about how the interrogation and prosecution of Tsarnaev should be handled, and signaled a more difficult road ahead for Obama’s push to rewrite U.S. immigration laws.

The Tsarnaev brothers, who lived in Cambridge, came to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union about a decade ago. They are ethnic Chechens whose father lives in Russia.

Lawmakers warned that the Boston bombings indicated the potency of the threat of homegrown terrorism, vowing to scrutinize it for clues on how to prevent future such events.

“While we have made it more difficult for terrorists to carry out attacks from overseas, the attack on the Boston Marathon is indicative of the shift in terrorists’ tactics in recent years to inspire people who are living in the United States to strike,” said Republican Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “While several plots of this nature have been thwarted, this is the first to succeed.”

Pending Questions

McCaul said his panel would ask in the coming weeks “how this happened, and how we can prevent it from happening again.”

Throughout the hunt, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden received regular briefings from top officials in Washington and Boston. The president spoke on the phone yesterday with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the investigation.

Earlier in the day, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had been “very attentively watching” the developments.

U.S. authorities haven’t yet found evidence that the suspects were connected to other individuals or groups, according to a person briefed on the investigation who asked not to be identified to discuss the probe.

The saga demonstrates the pressing need for U.S. law enforcement to maintain robust intelligence and counterterrorism programs at the state and local levels, said Republican Representative Peter King of New York.

Islamist ‘Threat’

“The fact that these terrorists were from overseas, living legally in our country for a period of time, and the fact that there was no federal intelligence or chatter prior to the marathon bombings demonstrates once again the Islamist terrorist threat to our country from within our borders,” said King, the chairman of the Homeland Security panel that oversees counterterrorism and intelligence.

“As has been demonstrated in recent years there is a significant terrorist threat from people living within our country under the radar screen,” he said.

King, along with Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, released a joint statement today encouraging the Obama administration to treat Tsarnaev as a “potential enemy combatant,” depriving him of the rights given U.S. law enforcement suspects in custody, in order to learn more about possible future attacks.

48 Hours

“We have concerns that limiting this investigation to 48 hours, and exclusively relying on the public safety exception to Miranda, could very well be a national security mistake,” they wrote in a statement. “It could severely limit our ability to gather critical information about future attacks from this suspect.”

The Obama administration has not classified Tsarnaev, a U.S. citizen, as an enemy combatant. However, they’ve also opted against reading him the Miranda warning that gives suspects a chance to consult a lawyer before answering questions, according to a Justice Department official.

The administration invoked a public-safety exception that lets law enforcement conduct limited questioning and allows the introduction of statements from those interviews into evidence before reading him the Miranda warning that gives suspects a chance to consult a lawyer before answering questions, said the official, who asked not to be identified because the move wasn’t announced.

Immigration Issue

Some critics of a far-reaching bipartisan effort to revamp U.S. immigration laws hinted that the Boston case could complicate the push.

“Given the events of this week, it is important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” said Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, who has opposed previous efforts to offer legal status to undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., as the measure would do.

“While we don’t yet know the immigration status of people who have terrorized the communities of Massachusetts,” Grassley said at a hearing on Capitol Hill, it could “shed light on the weaknesses of our system.”

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a legal resident of the U.S. while his brother, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, became a naturalized citizen on Sept. 11, 2012, according to a government official briefed on the matter who asked not to be identified because the investigation was in progress.

Democratic proponents of the immigration measure urged lawmakers not to allow the situation in Boston to derail it. People shouldn’t “jump to conclusions” and “conflate” the events in Boston with the immigration rewrite proposal, said Senator Charles Schumer of New York.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at llerer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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