NEW YORK/BOSTON/DARTMOUTH, MASSACHUSETTS – With the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing still unfolding and information changing by the hour, one constant has been that the suspect brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, did not appear to be fanatics. While some dark details of their lives will likely emerge at some point, so far their motivations remain a mystery.
Their lifestyle included many of the standard trappings of adolescence and young adulthood, including various social-media postings with vague musings about life, love and, in some cases, Islam. Authorities have not yet found connections to any groups or other suspects, a person briefed on the investigation said.
U.S. intelligence agencies reviewing volumes of international communications and other intelligence on terrorism have found no evidence, so far, that the Boston bombers were members of or inspired by any foreign terrorist organization, one U.S. official said. Nor were they encouraged by contacts with Islamic or other extremists overseas, the official added.
The brothers came from Russia to Massachusetts about a decade ago. They 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 Dzhokhar on the Russian social-networking site VK lists “career and money” as his personal priority and Islam as his worldview. Tamerlan was a competitive boxer, an aspiring engineer and a devout Muslim.
Tamerlan 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 No. 1, where Tamerlan went to seventh grade and Dzhokhar to first grade.
The parents first received asylum in the U.S. and then filed for the children, who were given “derivative asylum status” and did not come through the refugee-admissions program — though the legal standard is essentially the same, a State Department official said.
Tamerlan was the extrovert and Dzhokhar the introvert, John Curran of Watertown, Tamerlan’s former boxing coach who had not seen them in a few years, told NBC News. “The young brother was like a puppy dog following his older brother,” Curran said.
The men’s father, Anzor Tsarnaev, said in a telephone interview from Makhachkala that his younger son is “a true angel.” He said he was studying medicine.
“He is such an intelligent boy,” the father said. “We expected him to come on holidays here.”
Ruslan Tsarni, the men’s uncle, said the brothers traveled to Boston together from Russia. He called his nephews “losers” and said they had struggled to settle in the U.S. and ended up “thereby just hating everyone.”
Their mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, told Russian TV network RT: “I am 100 percent sure that they were set up. Both of my sons are innocent. My youngest son has been in America since he was 8. We never talked about terrorism at home. My eldest son became interested in religion five years ago. He began to follow rules of Islam, but he never said he plans to enter the road to jihad.”
Tamerlan 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.”
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 spent about seven months in Russia last year, flying out of New York, according to law enforcement officials.
Both brothers had a social-networking presence, though Dzhokhar’s was more robust.
While it is difficult to know for sure whether a Twitter, Facebook or another social-network account is genuine, all indications are that the most insightful account the VK page. His page showed that he logged on since the Boston attack, most recently on the morning of April 19.
Tamerlan appeared to have a Google+ account, and also subscribed to a channel on YouTube called “Allah is the One,” and commented on a video, which recounts a Russian’s conversion to Islam.
While some of the online videos have militant or jihadist themes, they do not appear to promote violence against the U.S. However, several videos have been deleted from the site, including two originally posted under the heading “terrorists.”
Dzhokhar attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a prestigious public high school in Cambridge that is known for its eclectic, diverse student body.
In 2011, Dzhokhar received a higher-education scholarship from the city of Cambridge. On Sept. 11 of the following year, he became a U.S. citizen, law enforcement officials said. The University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, said he was registered as a student there.
Students at the university said Dzhokhar lived on the third floor of the Pine Dale dormitory. Harry Danso, who lives on the same floor, said he saw him in a dorm hallway last week after the bombings.
“He was regular, he was calm,” said Danso, who described Tsarnaev as a quiet kid who would sometimes ask him for a homework assignment.
Sonia Ribeiro, 19, was in a philosophy class with Tsarnaev. She also said he was on campus last week, although not in class.
“He was laid back. I would never expect this at all from him,” she said.