Two brothers suspected in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings used remote controls from toy cars to set off the blasts that ripped through the race’s finish line, according to federal law-enforcement officials and members of Congress briefed on the matter.
As authorities investigate how the bombs were built and detonated, U.S. lawmakers are asking whether the FBI and the CIA did all they could to prevent the April 15 attack. The agencies were queried in 2011 by an overseas government about the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. An FBI review at the time turned up nothing incriminating about him, while the CIA put his name into an interagency database.
“It’s way too soon to criticize or to start making political arguments of who failed,” Maryland Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters yesterday after a closed briefing with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials in Washington. “We had these serious attacks. We are all Americans. It is not a Republican or Democratic issue.”
Last week’s bombings killed three people and wounded more than 260, marking the highest-profile terror attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. In its aftermath, U.S. lawmakers say they’re learning from investigators that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his brother, Dzhokhar, 19, were schooled in radical Islam and terrorist bomb-making online, said Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
“Everything that I see right now seems like they were radicalized through the Internet,” he said. The elder brother died in a shootout with police April 19, while the younger was later captured a few blocks away in the same Boston suburb.
The device that detonated the bombs was described by Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, as the type used to remotely control a toy car.
“That’s the igniter,” McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in an interview. “When he turns on the device, it triggers the ignition and it blows up.”
The electronics were placed in pressure cookers along with ball bearings, nails, gunpowder and other components, McCaul said. The level of sophistication shows the perpetrators “had some level of training,” he said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has concluded that the bombs contained explosives from fireworks, possibly along with additional explosive material still being analyzed, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be identified discussing an active probe.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended on April 19 after being found hiding in a boat stored in the backyard of a home in Watertown, Massachusetts. His capture ended a four-day manhunt that at times virtually paralyzed Boston, the heart of the nation’s 10th-largest metropolitan area.
Despite initially saying that Dzhokhar was taken into custody after a second shootout with police and federal agents, investigators didn’t recover a weapon from inside the boat, according to two federal law enforcement officials who asked not to be identified in discussing an active criminal probe.
Tsarnaev, recovering from gunshot wounds in a Boston hospital and charged with use of a weapon of mass destruction, has told investigators the brothers found bomb-making information in the pages of Inspire, an online magazine affiliated with the al-Qaeda terror organization, Ruppersberger said. The suspect, wounded in the throat, is communicating “through writing and nodding,” he told reporters.
Investigators are examining whether the ethnic Chechen brothers were prompted by people or organizations outside the U.S. A U.S. official briefed on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s interrogation said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were cited as a motivating factor behind the Boston attack.
The older brother traveled for six months in Russia last year and visited the republics of Dagestan and Chechnya, where there are Islamic separatist movements. U.S. investigators traveled to the region this week.
In late September 2011, the CIA received information from another government on Tamerlan Tsarnaev almost identical to that which the FBI had received in March 2011, according to a U.S. intelligence official who asked not to be identified.
The Central Intelligence Agency nominated Tsarnaev for a list that provides information to various government agencies about people who may be of interest to them -- the so-called TIDE database, for Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment.
The Russian intelligence service provided information including two possible dates of birth, Tamerlan’s name and a possible spelling variation in late September 2011, according to the official. It was substantially the same as what Russia’s Federal Security Service had given the FBI about six months earlier.
The FBI, which interviewed the older Tsarnaev brother as part of its investigation, found nothing incriminating, the official said.
The bureau asked its Russian counterpart three times for any additional information it could provide on the suspect and got no response, according to a U.S. official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter and asked not to be identified.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said today that the attack should prompt the U.S. to cooperate more closely with his country.
“I am simply appealing for this tragedy to bring us together in fighting common threats, of which one of the most important and dangerous is terrorism,” Putin said in a nationwide live call-in show today.
Putin criticized Western governments and media for their failure to condemn militants in Russia’s mainly Muslim North Caucasus, including in Chechnya where there have been two conflicts since the mid-1990s.
The suspects’ parents, Anzor and Zubeidat Tsarnaev, spoke yesterday to FBI and Russian agents in Makhachkala, the Dagestan capital on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. The parents intend to return to the U.S., according to Zaurbek Sadahanov, a lawyer assisting the family.
Relatives and acquaintances described Tamerlan Tsarnaev as being drawn more deeply into radical Islam in recent years.
Ruslan Tsarni, an uncle who lives in suburban Washington, said that the older brother had come under the influence of a radical recent convert to Islam as early as 2007. The man, who was then about 30, of Armenian descent and known to them as Misha, visited the family’s home in Cambridge, across the Charles River from Boston, Tsarni said in an interview.
Chris Walter of Cambridge said yesterday he told the FBI that he witnessed the transformation.
Tamerlan’s father, Anzor, would repair automobiles in Walter’s driveway, a half mile from the family home. Tamerlan would come along to help and, by 2010, Walter observed that Tamerlan would “put down his mat and pray.”
“He gave no indication that he was very interested in religion before that,” Walter said in a telephone interview.
Investigators are looking into money the Tsarnaev brothers got from relatives, friends, people overseas or other sources, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the probe is continuing. Tamerlan drove a silver, C-Class Mercedes-Benz car.
He and his wife, the former Katherine Russell, received government assistance after their daughter was born, said Alec Loftus, a Massachusetts Health and Human Services Department spokesman. The benefits ended last year, when the family’s income exceeded eligibility limits, he said. The couple’s daughter is now about 2 years old.
Federal agents have questioned Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s 24-year- old widow, who is staying with her parents in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. She declined to comment yesterday. She is assisting in the investigation, according to a statement from Amato DeLuca, her lawyer.
“There is an estrangement in the family,” Elizabeth Russell, her aunt, said by telephone April 23. “I haven’t seen Katie in four years.”
As Boston sought to return to normal yesterday, Boylston Street, a main thoroughfare where the bombs were detonated, reopened to the public after a weeklong lockdown. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden led a memorial service at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge for campus police officer Sean Collier, 26, whose April 18 killing set off an overnight chase that led to the bombing suspects.
More than 5,000 gathered at noon for the memorial service for Collier, who was shot point-blank in his cruiser.
Biden, whose first wife and young daughter were killed in a car accident, told the crowd he spoke from experience in offering the Collier family words of comfort.
“My heart goes out to you,” Biden said. “I hope you find some solace.”
The vice president addressed terrorism, too.
“We are grieving, but we are not bending,” he told the crowd. “We will not yield to fear.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at firstname.lastname@example.org