Brothers Suspected in Boston Bombing Straddled CulturesEsmé E. Deprez and Prashant Gopal
Two brothers from the former Soviet Union who came to Massachusetts about a decade ago yet clung to their homeland are the top suspects in the bombings this week that killed three and wounded scores in Boston.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died early this morning after a shootout with police. Dzhokar A. Tsarnaev, 19, escaped during a night of mayhem as investigators hunted for him on foot, by vehicle and from the air.
“There is still a very, very dangerous individual at large,” Governor Deval Patrick said today at a news briefing.
A parallel quest sought to learn what motivated the Tsarnaevs to allegedly commit one of the worst acts of terror on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
The brothers, who lived in Cambridge, left evidence including on the Internet that shows them straddling two cultures, an America focused on entertainment and consumerism and a Muslim faith tradition that emphasized devotion and purity. A profile attributed to Dzhokar on the Russian social networking site Vkontakte lists “career and money” as his personal priority and Islam as his world view. Tamerlan was a competitive boxer, an aspiring engineer and a devout Muslim who once said he didn’t have any American friends.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was born in Russia and his younger brother in the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, said two U.S. law-enforcement officials familiar with the investigation. The brothers and two sisters came as refugees to the Dagestan city of Makhachkala in October 2001 from Kyrgyzstan, said Emirmagomed Davudov, the director of Gimnasium Number 1, where Tamerlan went to seventh grade and Dzhokar to first grade.
Ruslan Tsarni, the suspects’ uncle in Gaithersburg, Maryland, said his brother’s children immigrated to the U.S. in 2003, arriving in Cambridge. Asked for a possible motive for the attacks, Tsarni called them “losers not being able to settle themselves and thereby just hating everybody who did.”
“I love this country,” said Tsarni, adding that he hadn’t seen the suspects since 2005. “He put a shame on the Tsarni family.”
Tamerlan was the extrovert and Dzhokar the introvert, John Curran, of Watertown, Massachusetts, Tamerlan’s former boxing coach who hadn’t seen them in a few years, told NBC News.
“The young brother was like a puppy dog following his older brother,” Curran said.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was registered as an amateur boxer in 2003-2004 and 2008-2010. He competed in the U.S. National Golden Gloves competition in Salt Lake City in 2009 in the heavyweight division and was the subject of a 2010 photo essay entitled “Will Box for Passport: An Olympic Drive to Become a United States Citizen,” in Boston University’s student magazine.
In the magazine, he said he hoped to become an engineer, loved the movie “Borat,” and didn’t smoke or drink alcohol given his faith. While he’d lived in the U.S. for years by then, he said, “I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t understand them.”
But contradictions abound. While he said he didn’t usually go shirtless when women were present at the boxing gym where he trained, he posed shirtless for a photo published with the article.
He told the magazine his family fled Chechnya in the early 1990s to escape the conflict there between Chechen separatists and the Russian military.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was 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. Additional details weren’t available today because the courthouse was closed, she said.
NBC News said Tamerlan spent about seven months in Russia last year, flying out of New York.
A YouTube page purportedly belonging to Tamerlan Tsarnaev includes links to several dozen videos ranging from songs ridiculing Russian policemen to sermons from a variety of Muslim leaders.
While some of the videos have militant or jihadist themes, they don’t appear to promote violence against the U.S. The only explicitly political video takes aim at the Russian-supported leader of the republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. However, several videos have been deleted from the site, including two originally posted under the heading “terrorists.”
In a black-and-white photo posted in 2012 on his Russian social network page, Dzhokar, the younger brother, wears a mop of hair, a dark shirt and a serious expression. He links to several Chechen-related groups, while a video posted April 9 on his page purportedly shows images of atrocities in Syria and ends with the Russian phrase, “Syria calls. We answer.”
He attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a prestigious public high school in Cambridge that also educated actor-director Ben Affleck and basketball player Patrick Ewing. The school is known for its eclectic, diverse student body.
In 2011, Dzhokar received a higher-education scholarship from the city of Cambridge. On Sept. 11 of the following year, he became a U.S. citizen, CBS News reported. The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth said he was registered as a student there. He worked intermittently during his high school years as a lifeguard at Harvard University, the school said, most recently last summer.
The Russian newspaper Izvestia published what it said was an interview today with the suspects’ father, Anzor Tsarnaev, who lives in the Russian province of Dagestan. In it, he said his oldest son was happily married to an American and had a child, while the youngest son was an A student, the newspaper said.
The father said he talked with Tamerlan right after the terror attack, to ask if he was all right, and Tamerlan said, “We are fine, don’t worry, we didn’t go there.”
Investigators will examine everything about the suspects, including where they’re from, whether they were trained, where their money came from, and what they’ve been doing in the U.S., said Timothy Murphy, an FBI agent for 23 years who served as deputy director of the bureau.
“They’ll trace all the financial records,” Murphy said. “They’ll look at every single nook and cranny on these guys and how they sustained their lifestyle.”
It was a lifestyle that included many of the standard trappings of adolescence.
Agustin Nedina, an 18-year-old from Cambridge who attended middle and high school with Dzhokar Tsarnaev, said he once played computer games at the suspect’s home.
“The one thing I remember clearly is he was playing lots of violent shooting games,” said Nedina, who graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 2012, a year behind Tsarnaev. Nedina said the games that Tsarnaev favored were not in English.
“He was a quiet kid,” he said.
Nedina said Tsarnaev was on the wrestling team.
“He wasn’t one of the popular kids, but he had a good number of friends,” Nedina said.
Both brothers attended Cambridge Community Charter School, a public, tuition-free, college-preparatory charter school in the Kendall Square area near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tamerlan Tsarnaev attended Bunker Hill Community College as a part-time student in the Accounting program for three semesters between 2006 and 2008, according to a news release from that school.
Gene Almodovar, 18, a high-school friend, said Dzhokar was acting “strange” when he last saw him in December.
Ty Darros, 21, said he hung out with Dzhokar a dozen or so times and last saw him about eight months ago. He said he was surprised to learn that Dzhokar is suspected in the bombings.
“He was such a nice guy,” he said. “The strangest thing about it is that I can’t think of anything about him that was strange.”