BOSTON/WASHINGTON – The two brothers suspected of bombing the Boston Marathon appear to have been motivated by a radical brand of Islam but do not seem connected to any Muslim terrorist groups, U.S. officials said Monday after interrogating and charging Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with crimes that could bring the death penalty.
Tsarnaev, 19, was charged in his hospital room, where he was in serious condition with a gunshot wound to the throat and other injuries suffered during his attempted getaway.
His older brother, Tamerlan, 26, died Friday after a fierce gunbattle with police.
The Massachusetts university student was charged with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. He was accused of joining with his brother in setting off the shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bombs that killed three people and wounded more than 200 a week ago.
The brothers, ethnic Chechens from Russia who had been living in the U.S. for about a decade, practiced Islam. Two U.S. officials said preliminary evidence from the younger man’s interrogation suggests the brothers were motivated by religious extremism but were apparently not involved with Islamic terrorist organizations.
Dzhokhar communicated with his interrogators in writing, precluding the type of back-and-forth exchanges often crucial to establishing key facts, the officials said. They cautioned that they were still trying to verify what they were told by Tsarnaev and were looking at such things as his telephone and online communications and his associations with others.
Tsarnaev told police his brother was the leader in last week’s deadly attacks, and that no international terrorist groups were behind them, CNN said.
The network cited an unnamed U.S. government source as saying that “preliminary interviews with Tsarnaev indicate the two brothers fit the classification of self-radicalized jihadists.”
“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, wounded and held in a Boston hospital, has said his brother . . . wanted to defend Islam from attack,” CNN quoted the source as saying.
But the surviving suspect indicated that international groups were not part of the brothers’ acts, CNN said. In the criminal complaint outlining the allegations, investigators said Tsarnaev and his brother each placed a knapsack containing a bomb in the crowd near the finish line of the world’s most prestigious marathon.
The FBI said surveillance-camera footage showed Dzhokhar manipulating his mobile phone and lifting it to his ear just instants before the two blasts.
After the first blast, a block away from Dzhokhar, “virtually every head turns to the east . . . and stares in that direction in apparent bewilderment and alarm,” the complaint says. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, “virtually alone of the individuals in front of the restaurant, appears calm.”
He then quickly walked away, leaving a knapsack on the ground; about 10 seconds later, a bomb blew up at the spot where he had been standing, the FBI said.
The FBI did not say whether he was using his cellphone to detonate one or both of the bombs or whether he was talking to someone.
The White House said it had no choice but to prosecute Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the federal court system. Some politicians had suggested he be tried as an enemy combatant in front of a military tribunal, where defendants are denied some of the usual constitutional protections.
But Tsarnaev is a naturalized U.S. citizen, and under U.S. law, American citizens cannot be tried by military tribunals, White House spokesman Jay Carney said. Carney said that since Sept. 11, 2001, the federal court system has been used to convict and imprison hundreds of terrorists.
Meanwhile, Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s name was included in a federal government travel-screening database in 2011 after the FBI investigated the man at Russia’s request, a law enforcement official said Monday.
But because an airline misspelled Tsarnaev’s name when it submitted the passenger list for his flight to Russia in January 2012, it was not matched with the 2011 entry in the screening database, the official said. However, he said, even if his name had been spelled correctly and U.S. officials recognized that Tsarnaev, the subject of a 2011 FBI inquiry, was on the flight, he would have faced no additional scrutiny because the FBI had by that time found no information connecting Tsarnaev to terrorism.
Also Monday, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying two foreign nationals arrested Saturday in the Boston area on immigration violations are its citizens and may have known the two Marathon bombing suspects.
The ministry said that U.S. authorities came across them while searching for “possible links and contacts” to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Their names have not been released.
Shortly after the charges were unveiled, Boston-area residents and many of their well-wishers observed a moment of silence at 2:49 p.m. — the moment a week earlier when the bombs exploded.
Amid a swirl of emotions in Boston, there was cause for some celebration: Doctors announced that everyone injured in the blasts who made it to a hospital alive now seems likely to survive. As of Monday, 51 people remained hospitalized, three of them in critical condition. At least 14 people lost all or part of a limb; three of them lost more than one.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had gunshot wounds to the head, neck, legs and hands when he was captured hiding out in a boat in a backyard in the Boston suburb of Watertown, authorities said.
A probable cause hearing — at which prosecutors will spell out the basics of their case — was set for May 30. According to a clerk’s notes of Monday’s proceedings in the hospital, U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler indicated she was satisfied that Tsarnaev was “alert and able to respond to the charges.”
The FBI said it searched Tsarnaev’s dorm room at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, on Sunday and found BBs as well as a white hat and dark jacket that look like those worn by one of the suspected bombers in the surveillance photos the agency released a few days after the attack, according to the affidavit.
New information also emerged Monday about Tamerlan’s earlier brushes with the law.
Authorities in Massachusetts confirmed that they are investigating whether the elder brother may have been connected to a triple homicide in Waltham, Massachusetts, in September 2011, prosecutors said. The Boston Globe reported that Tamerlan was friends with Brendan Mess, 25, one of three people found dead in an apartment on the afternoon of Sept. 12.
Meanwhile, Reddit apologized Monday for being a rallying point for online witch hunts as amateur sleuths used the social news website to expose the people behind the blasts.
Reddit, along with some of its users and moderators, apologized privately to the family of a missing college student wrongly implicated during a quest to use crowd-sourcing to identify who was behind the bombing, Reddit General Manager Erik Martin said in a blog post.