A deeper look at the Tsarnaev brothers


Images are viewed taken from a security camera of persons of interest in the twin bombings at the Boston Marathon during a news conference on April 18, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. The twin bombings at the 116-year-old Boston race, which occurred near the marathon finish line, resulted in the deaths of three people while hospitalizing at least 128.


Spencer Platt

A massive manhunt intensified at dusk as police closed in on the 19-year-old Marathon bombing suspect who was holed up in a residential neighborhood of Watertown, Massachusetts.

[At 8:44 p.m., the Boston Police Department confirmed that the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, had been taken into custody. Residents of the neighborhood cheered as he was transported from the scene and a tense standoff came to a close.]

It was just moments after a press conference in which city, state and federal officials called off an all-day lock-down of the city of Boston that a burst of automatic gunfire erupted in Watertown and, according to live television reports from the scene, the intensity of the operation shifted suddenly and dramatically.

Helicopters swept down on the area where the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, had fled police on foot after an overnight shootout. Assault vehicles and police special operations units rushed forward in the direction of the gunshots at high speed. A bomb squad vehicle moved in toward what appeared to be a standoff with the suspect. Snipers took positions on rooftops and around a backyard with a boat and a small garage where he was believed to be in hiding.

A law enforcement source told GlobalPost hundreds of police and federal agents were in a “very tense” standoff with a man they believe to be the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. Initially, it was not clear whether they were negotiating with him to surrender or preparing an assault. At 7:50 pm EDT, there were a series of small explosions, possibly ‘flash-bang’ grenades or gas-canister launchers which authorities often use to stun or subdue a suspect.

Just before nightfall, Dzhokhar remained at large after eluding the largest manhunt in Boston’s history all day. Viewers in the city and around the world watched on live television and on social media networks as the extraordinary drama unfolded minute by minute. But even as he eluded authorities, a profile began to emerge of an ethnic Chechen immigrant and a fraught relationship with his older brother who killed a security guard and then was himself killed in a hail of gunfire by police after an overnight shootout.

Amid the chaos, the younger brother first escaped from police by reportedly running over his older brother, Tamerlan, 26, who police said was strapped with explosives when they found him dead in the road after the gun battle in which more than 200 rounds were fired. It was unclear as of late today how he was killed.

The brothers were both named suspects Thursday after police captured video images of them carrying laden backpacks that investigators believe held the crudely constructed bombs that killed three young people and seriously injured 174.

Dzhokhar was pictured in the white cap and Tamerlan in the dark cap. And the relationship between these brothers and whether the older brother may have somehow participated in the radicalization of the younger brother will likely be a focus of investigators, according to terrorism experts and several former federal agents who specialize in profiling suspects.

Experts believe these fraternal relationships might help them understand a motivation for the attack and, more urgently, a sense of how committed the younger brother is, and whether he will give himself up peacefully, or engage in a fight to the death.

Dzhokhar, who escaped to Watertown and then fled on foot, is a student at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth on a wrestling scholarship. The Boston Globe reported that he returned to the campus Wednesday after the bombing. Students there universally describe him as kind and thoughtful and a good friend. He worked for a while as a lifeguard at Harvard University. His boss, George McMaster, said, “He showed up on time, he watched the water and he got along well with the other students and swimmers. He was a good employee.”

He had a “kind, sweet soul,” as one high school classmate described him.

But Massachusetts State Police Col. Timothy Alben offered a very different perspective, describing him as a “very violent and dangerous person.”

“My message to the suspect is to give himself up, and to stop any further violence,” said Alben at a press conference at dusk in Watertown as a heavily armed police presence braced for a long and difficult night of searching for a suspect who is believed to be armed with guns and explosives.

No one who knew him – not high school teachers, fellow students, college friends, family or neighbors – said they could square the person he was with the terrorist attack for which he is a suspect, and the picture police have painted of him as a desperate terrorist on the run.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is the youngest of four siblings and was described as very different from his older brother Tamerlan. Tamerlan was a college dropout, a devout Muslim who in recent years had dedicated himself to prayer five times a day and was seen as sometimes overly protective of his two sisters.

Tamerlan held unrealized dreams of being a professional boxer. His YouTube page had a chaotic mix of videos of Muslim victims of bombing in Syria, of the militant preachings of an Islamic cleric and rap videos. Tamerlan had reportedly posted on a web page: “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.”

His mother said in an interview in Dagestan that she could not believe that her sons were responsible and that they were “set up.” She added that the FBI had been following Tamerlan for years.

CNN reported Friday night that the FBI confirmed that they interviewed Tamerlan at the request of a foreign government approximately two years ago about allegations that he was an Islamic militant. CNN reported that the interview revealed no “derogatory information” and that he was not arrested.

The brothers’ uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, stood on the porch of his small home in Maryland and described the immigrant journey that brought he and his brothers and their families out of war-torn Chechnya to America as immigrants. He said the families had fractured and not been in close touch, but that he had spoken to the two boys three months ago.

He was asked what would have made them carry out such a violent attack, “Being losers, having hatred for those who were successful in settling themselves. That is the only reason I can think of these things. Anything else, like religion, is a fraud. It is a fake.”

The brothers’ aunt, Maret Tsarnaev, told a gathering of reporters in Toronto, Canada that their father “always expected more” of his sons, particularly Tamerlan.

“He had very high expectations for him and when he found out he dropped out from university, he was desperate… He knew he was smart, and he always expected more. Tamerlan was his favorite,” Maret said.

She added, “I just can’t believe it was them who could do this. I just can’t. I don’t think anyone can.”