Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has communicated to investigators that he and his older brother alone were responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings and motivated by extremist Islam, according to a U.S. official briefed on the initial interrogation.
By nodding his head and occasionally by writing -- a gunshot wound to his neck prevents him from speaking -- Tsarnaev, 19, indicated that he and his brother, Tamerlan, 26, who was killed in a police shootout, weren’t aligned with any known terrorist or military groups, the official said.
Two federal law enforcement officials cautioned that the questioning of Tsarnaev, and the broader investigation, are at an early stage. The probe is covering the Tsarnaevs’ travel, communications and history as they work to pin down the motivation for the attack.
FULL COVERAGE: Boston Marathon Bombings
The complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Boston yesterday painted the younger Tsarnaev as coldly planting the second of the two bombs that rocked a city and a nation on April 15. It charges him with crimes that could carry the death penalty.
Based in part on video collected from security cameras and witnesses, the complaint describes how Tsarnaev stood for four minutes with a bomb-laden backpack at his feet and, while the crowd around him was seized with alarm, he only glanced in the direction of the first explosion at the marathon.
Tsarnaev then calmly but rapidly began moving away from his knapsack. Ten seconds later, it exploded, driving nails and BB pellets into spectators near the storied race’s finish line.
The Tsarnaevs, immigrants of Chechen descent, had lived in the U.S. for more than a decade. Investigators are working with Russian authorities as they focus on a six-month trip that the older brother took last year to Chechnya and neighboring Dagestan, both regions of Russia that have been roiled by Islamist separatist movements. During the trip, the older brother became more deeply involved in Islam, his aunt, Patimat Suleimanova, 62, said in interviews with reporters in Makhachkala, Dagestan.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is under scrutiny by some members of Congress for its handling of a tip from Russian authorities before the trip that the older brother was turning to Islamist extremism. The FBI investigated after receiving the information in 2011 and closed its inquiry when it found no evidence of terrorist activity, the agency said in a statement.
The charges against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were unsealed yesterday as rituals of grieving and recovery proceeded in Boston. The city observed a moment of silence at 2:50 p.m., the time the first of the bombs exploded one week earlier. Mourners stood 15 deep outside a funeral mass yesterday for one of the victims, 29-year-old Krystle Campbell.
The FBI returned a four-block crime scene at the blast site back to the city’s control in a closed ceremony, indicating that investigators have mostly completed the task of gathering evidence there. To mark the transition, the FBI presented Mayor Thomas Menino with an American flag that flew at half-staff at the race finish line.
Three people died and more than 200 were wounded by the two bombs fashioned from pressure cookers that the brothers are accused of detonating. At least 13 people had limbs amputated because of injuries caused by the shrapnel packed into the bombs, hospital officials said.
The day after the bombing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was back at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where he attended college, working out at the campus gym. Zach Bettencourt, 20, who saw him there, recalled his reaction: “Tragedies happen.”
Tsarnaev, who was wounded in the head, neck, legs and hand in two gunfights with police, made his initial court appearance yesterday in his hospital room at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He communicated by nodding his head and once mumbling a single word, “No,” when asked if he could afford an attorney, according to a transcript of the proceeding.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler began the proceeding by telling a doctor in the room, “You can rouse him.” Asked if he was “able to answer some questions,” Tsarnaev nodded affirmatively, according to the transcript.
Assistant Federal Public Defender William Fick represented Tsarnaev during the proceeding. Fick, a fluent Russian speaker, told the judge he had the chance to speak “very briefly” with his client.
The Justice Department had instructed law enforcement officers not to advise Tsarnaev of his constitutional rights after his arrest, based on a public-safety exception to the Miranda rule requiring the notice. Tsarnaev has communicated through written answers to questions from investigators trying to determine if he has additional accomplices or if more attacks are in motion, according to federal law enforcement officials.
The FBI-led probe so far has not turned up any evidence suggesting the suspects are tied to a terrorist cell or foreign government, according to an official familiar with the probe who asked not to be identified discussing an active investigation.
Bowler, the magistrate, advised him of his right to remain silent and be represented by an attorney at the hospital-room proceeding.
Tsarnaev is charged with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, according to a filing in Boston federal court. He’s also charged with malicious destruction of property by means of an explosive device resulting in death.
Fick deferred the question of bail and agreed to voluntary detention for his client. The government is seeking to hold him without bail.
Not included in the federal complaint were charges tied to the shooting death of Sean Collier, a 26-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, and the wounding of a transit patrolman during the manhunt that culminated in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capture on April 19. Such crimes are typically prosecuted by local district attorneys, and may result in state charges that parallel the federal case.
The district attorney’s office for Middlesex County, which has jurisdiction over the two shootings, said the matter is still under investigation.
In the complaint unsealed yesterday, FBI Agent Daniel Genck said video surveillance cameras on April 15 showed Tsarnaev and his brother 11 minutes before the first explosion, both carrying large knapsacks as they walked near the marathon route. About eight minutes before the explosions, they stopped and stood together before separating.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could be seen occasionally fiddling with his mobile phone as he waited at the bomb site, according to the complaint. About 30 seconds before the first explosion, he held the phone to his ear, as if talking until just before the detonation.
Genck, in the criminal complaint, said a search of Tsarnaev’s dormitory turned up a “large pyrotechnic” as well as a jacket and hat matching the ones seen on the marathon video.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a naturalized citizen and his brother was a lawful permanent resident of the U.S.
The Tsarnaev brothers and their two sisters moved to the Dagestan region of Russia in October 2001 from the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan as refugees, and left for the U.S in March 2002, said Emirmagomed Davudov, director of Gimnasium Number 1 in Dagestan, where Tamerlan went to the seventh grade and Dzhokhar to first grade.
The parents first received asylum and then filed for the children, who were given “derivative asylum status” and didn’t come through the refugee admissions program, though the legal standard is essentially the same, said a State Department official who asked not to be identified to discuss the case.
Two years ago, the FBI interviewed the older Tsarnaev brother “based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam” and preparing to join underground groups in that country, according to an agency statement. The interview and reviews of U.S. databases turned up no evidence of terror activity, the FBI said.
The agency didn’t follow up with a second interview after Tamerlan Tsarnaev returned to the U.S. from his six-month trip to Russia.
The Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, asked the FBI and other security agencies for all documents on Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The trip may have been missed by the FBI because his name was misspelled on airline records, said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican.
Members of the House are scheduled to get a classified briefing on the bombing today, according to a notice sent to lawmakers and obtained by Bloomberg News.
The older brother’s wife, Katherine Russell Tsarnaev, has left their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to stay with her parents in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, since her husband’s death, said her attorney, Amato DeLuca.
She had worked 70 to 80 hours a week as a home health aide while her husband took care of their 2 1/2-year-old daughter and “knew nothing” about the planned attack, DeLuca said. He declined to comment on whether she had noticed any change in her husband’s behavior around the time of the bombings.
“That’s something I can’t get into,” he said.
The case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-02106, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
To contact the reporters on this story: Phil Mattingly in Washington at email@example.com; David McLaughlin in Boston at firstname.lastname@example.org; Janelle Lawrence in Boston at email@example.com