Boston Bombing Suspects Said to Plan Times Square Attack
The two brothers suspected in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings planned to drive to New York City after the April 15 attack and set off more explosives in Times Square, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said.
The FBI informed the city of the brothers’ alleged plans, Bloomberg said yesterday at a city hall press conference. The information came from a second interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is being held on federal capital charges in a Boston hospital. Initially, he allegedly told investigators they were coming to New York just to “party.”
The bombing is a “horrific reminder that we remain targets for terrorists,” Bloomberg said. “Upon news of the explosions in Boston we immediately mobilized the New York City Police Department’s counterterrorism operations because we thought there was a possibility that they could attempt a related attack here. We now know that possibility was, in fact, all too real.”
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the brothers “spontaneously” decided to travel to New York and detonate five pipe bombs and a pressure cooker device like the two they allegedly exploded in Boston. Their plan “fell apart” when they realized the car they had stolen was low on gasoline. When they stopped for fuel, Kelly said, the carjacked driver they were holding hostage escaped and called police.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev traveled to New York in April and November of last year, said Kelly. In 2010, Faisal Shahzad bungled an attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square. He pleaded guilty to packing homemade bombs into his Nissan Pathfinder and abandoning it on May 1, 2010. The bombs were discovered before they went off. Shahzad was sentenced to life in prison.
“We don’t know if we would have been able to stop the terrorists had they arrived here from Boston, we’re just thankful that we didn’t have to find out that answer,” said Bloomberg, 71, the majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent of Bloomberg News.
“New York City remains a prime target for those who hate America and want to kill Americans,” Bloomberg said. “The attacks in Boston -- and the news that New York City was next on the terrorists’ list -- shows just how critical it is for the federal government to devote resources to high-risk areas.”
The U.S. Marshals Service, which took Tsarnaev into custody from the FBI after his initial appearance before a U.S. magistrate judge, said today he has been moved to the Federal Medical Center Devens. The Massachusetts U.S. prison facility is home to convicted hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam, where he is serving an 11-year sentence for insider trading.
On April 24, federal law-enforcement officials and members of Congress briefed on the matter revealed that the brothers used toy car-remote controls to set off the Boston blasts.
As the U.S. probes how the bombs were built and detonated, lawmakers are asking whether the FBI and CIA did all they could to prevent the April 15 attack. The agencies were queried in 2011 by an overseas government about Dzhokhar’s older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. A Federal Bureau of Investigation review at the time turned up nothing incriminating, while the Central Intelligence Agency 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 on April 24 after a closed briefing with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials in Washington.
Last week’s bombings killed three people and wounded more than 260. In its aftermath, U.S. lawmakers said 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.
“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 while the younger one 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. 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 FBI 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 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.
Despite initially saying that Dzhokhar was taken into custody after a second shootout, 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 brothers, ethnic Chechens, were prompted by people or organizations outside the U.S. A federal 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 CIA 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 yesterday 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.
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 to FBI and Russian agents in Makhachkala, the Dagestan capital on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. At a news conference yesterday in Dagestan, the parents said they intend to return to the U.S.
Zubeidat, defiant and in tears, told reporters that she didn’t believe her sons were involved in the bombing and regrets moving to America.
“Why did I even go there?” she said. “America took my kids away from me.”
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 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.
Zubeidat said she met Misha and denied he was an extremist. She told reporters that Misha prayed at their home, which influenced her to pray more.
“I was just really impressed,” she said. “There was nothing not to like about him. Nothing extreme.”
Chris Walter of Cambridge said on April 24 that 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 phone interview.
Thousands of Facebook subscribers are joining online groups proclaiming the innocence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. A Facebook page called ““Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is innocent” has signed up almost 18,000 members. The site is closed, and new members must be accepted to see posts.
According to an introduction to the Facebook page, it was created by AXJ, or Actions for Justice, which claims to have 200,000 members worldwide. AXJ said it is “receiving evidence from witnesses that were present at the Boston Marathon which is contradicting the version in a complaint that was filed in federal court.”
One of the first Facebook pages to claim Tsarnaev isn’t responsible for the bombing belongs to Troy Crossley, who also created the #freejahar Twitter hashtag. Crossley and Tsarnaev exchanged messages through Twitter and appeared to know each other.
Crossley didn’t respond to a request for an interview sent to him through Facebook. He declined to speak with reporters who asked for an interview near his home in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
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.
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 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.”
The case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-mj-02106, U.S. District court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Dolmetsch in New York City Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org; Phil Mattingly in Washington at email@example.com; Michael C. Bender in Boston at firstname.lastname@example.org