Boston Bombing Suspects Re-Ignite Terrorist Trial Debate

Two brothers suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings are prompting renewed debate about how the U.S. should prosecute cases of domestic terrorism and whether the incidents are tied to a broader threat.

“We are still in a global war against radical Islamic jihadists,” Representative Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said today on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The Obama administration is wrongfully “putting us back in a law enforcement model” to handle the suspects, he said.

Deliberations over whether intelligence officials missed clues that could have prevented the highest-profile terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, are occurring as authorities investigate whether the suspects had help in planning the April 15 bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 260.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in a shootout with police on April 19. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was captured by authorities later that day after a manhunt that paralyzed the Boston metropolitan area. He was found hiding in a boat in the backyard of a home in Watertown, Massachusetts, and taken to the hospital for treatment of multiple gunshot wounds.

“Not all of these plots are associated in any way with al-Qaeda training,” Jane Harman, president and chief executive officer of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, a Washington policy group, said on NBC. Harman is a former Democratic congresswoman from California who served as the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee.

Internet Research

Individual attacks such as the Boston bombings can be planned through Internet research and without formal al-Qaeda ties, she said.

Lawmakers briefed by federal law-enforcement officials have said the Tsarnaev brothers, ethnic Chechens who came to the U.S. with their parents as refugees from Russia’s Caucasus region, were motivated by radical Islam they learned mostly over the Internet.

One thing Congress must do to protect the U.S. is to change the “broken-down” immigration system, Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Tamerlan Tsarnaev last year visited Dagestan, the center of separatist violence in the Caucasus region, for six months, according to his father. The trip is a subject of scrutiny as investigators attempt to reconstruct events leading to the Boston bombing.

Tracking Visas

The U.S. needs to track visas “so that we know not only when they arrive but when they leave,” Durbin said. The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin considering bipartisan immigration legislation this week.

“There had to be assistance” in planning the bombing, Representative Peter King, a New York Republican and member of the House Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees, said on the CNN program.

King said it was “difficult to believe” that the Tsarnaev brothers could have carried out the attack by themselves. Training overseas or help from people in the U.S was probably involved, he said.

Investigators are scrutinizing Katherine Russell, the widow of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who lived in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, apartment with him and their 2-year-old daughter. The younger suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, told interrogators that the pressure-cooker bombs used in the attack were assembled at the older brother’s apartment, according to a U.S. official who was briefed on the questioning and asked not to be identified.

Russell’s lawyer, Amato DeLuca, has said his client is cooperating with the investigation.

Death Penalty

The younger Tsarnaev, now held at a federal prison medical center west of Boston, is charged with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and may face the death penalty if convicted.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told investigators the original plan was to target the city’s July 4 celebration and that the brothers attacked last month’s race after building their bombs faster than expected, according to an official briefed on the matter.

Three 19-year-old college friends of the younger Tsarnaev have been taken into custody. Two have been charged with conspiring to obstruct justice by removing items from Tsarnaev’s dormitory room, and one was charged with willfully making false statements to investigators.

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