Deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was identified by a foreign government as a “follower of radical Islam and a strong believer” whose personality had changed drastically in just a year, according to the FBI.
As investigators considered possible motives for Monday’s fatal bombings, U.S. authorities acknowledged that an unnamed government had contacted the FBI to say the 26-year-old ethnic Chechen “had changed drastically” since 2010 and was preparing to leave the United States “to join unspecified underground groups,” according to an official statement from the FBI.
U.S. officials have not named the foreign nation, but it is presumed to be Russia. Tsarnaev traveled there in 2012 and stayed for six months.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, came to the U.S. from Russia about a decade ago as ethnic Chechen refugees and were granted asylum, law enforcement sources have said. Tamerlan, who was killed in a gun battle with police early Friday morning Boston time, was a legal permanent U.S. resident. Dzhokhar, who became a citizen Sept. 11, 2012, was captured after a Friday night shootout with police and remains hospitalized in serious condition. He has not yet been charged.
According to the FBI, the foreign government had requested information on the older brother, and the agency responded by checking U.S. government databases for information on “derogatory” telephone communications, online promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history. The FBI also interviewed the suspect and family members and found no terrorism activity, the agency said.
“The FBI requested but did not receive more specific or additional information from the foreign government,” the statement read.
The disclosure comes as some U.S. lawmakers are urging that the surviving suspect be treated as a foreign combatant, and not simply a criminal suspect.
Family members and acquaintances have painted starkly contrasting portraits of the suspects. Classmates and others have described the younger brother as pleasant, but the older brother as intense and given to occasional outbursts.
At the Cambridge mosque near where the bombing suspects lived, two worshipers who showed up for Saturday’s prayer service recalled seeing both men.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was thrown out of the mosque -- the Islamic Society of Boston, in Cambridge -- about three months ago, after he stood up and shouted at the imam during a Friday prayer service, they said. The imam had held up slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. as an example of a man to emulate, recalled one worshiper who would give his name only as Muhammad.
[For the Record, 11:25 a.m. PDT April 21: A previous version of this post stated that a worshiper said Tamerlan Tsarnaev had an outburst during a prayer service at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, which is in Roxbury Crossing. The alleged outburst occurred at the Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Cambridge. A photo of the incorrect location has been removed from the post. The post also has been updated to include comments from a leader of the Cambridge mosque disputing the claim that Tsarnaev had been ejected.]
Enraged, Tamerlan stood up and began shouting, Muhammad said.
“You cannot mention this guy because he’s not a Muslim!” Muhammad recalled Tamerlan shouting, shocking others in attendance.
“He’s crazy to me,” Muhammad said. “He had an anger inside.… I can’t explain what was in his mind.”
Tamerlan was then kicked out of the prayer service for his outburst, Muhammad recalled. “You can’t do that,” Muhammad said of shouting at the imam.
Still, Tamerlan returned to Friday prayer services and had no further outbursts, Muhammad said.
Anwar Kazmi, a trustee of the Cambridge mosque, said Tamerlan wasn’t ejected after the outburst over King, but was talked to later by mosque leaders and calmed down.
“That was the only untoward sort of incident,” involving the brothers, he said.
The other mosque attendee, who identified himself only as Haithen, described Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as nice, friendly and “really laid back.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was different though. “His persona was not really so nice,” this worshiper said.
An official statement released by the Islamic Society on Saturday said that while the suspects were known to mosque members, no one was able to predict or prevent the acts the brothers have been accused of.
Grief for the victims and their families and prayers for the recovery of the injured will be the continued focus of the center, the statement said. The center also pledged to leave “no stone uncovered in finding any other suspects connected to the bombs.”
Meanwhile, life gradually began to return to normal Saturday as Boston residents celebrated the younger suspect’s capture. On Friday, they had been ordered to stay in their homes while authorities conducted a door-to-door search for the surviving suspect.
In a brief talk with reporters outside Fenway Park, just before a Red Sox home game Saturday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said that he was hoping “the suspect survives because we have a million questions and those questions need to be answered.”
Patrick said he believed that all potential explosive devices had been found, but that security in general required “constant vigilance.”
“This was several days of great highs and great lows,” he said. “The tragedy was apparent and horrific. But the acts of grace and kindness that people showed, the extraordinary professionalism of the first responders, the medical professionals, the law enforcement agencies, all of it spoke so well of Bostonians.”
Yet those area residents who knew the brothers were still struggling to reconcile their memories of the pair and the actions they have been accused of.
In addition to being suspects in the marathon bombings, the brothers were armed with at least three firearms and several improvised bombs — including a pressure-cooker explosive — during the confrontations with police, authorities said. A law enforcement official said the arsenal will be traced to determine if someone outside of the U.S. was involved.
Troy Aiguier, owner of Troy’s Barber Shop in Cambridge, stood just a few blocks from the brothers’ Norfolk Street apartment. He said he had “watched them grow up on the same street” for roughly 10 years.
“It wasn’t like they stuck out like a sore thumb or anything. They were a totally average family,” he said.
Aiguier said he knew Tamerlan as a regular customer -- the cut he’d get was “neat and clean” -- and as a boxer in Lowell. “Pretty good,” was Aiguier’s assessment.
But Mary Silberman, who lives directly behind the brothers’ building, had a less positive impression of her neighbors. “It’s such a strange household,” she said.
Silberman’s bedroom window was at nearly the same level as the Tsarnaevs’ third-floor unit. She often heard the family during the summer when windows were left open.
“At odd hours, you’d hear screaming,” she said, saying the fights would occur close to midnight or in the early morning hours.
“It wasn’t enough to call the cops,” Silberman said. “With domestic affairs, it’s such a fine line. It’s not like I’d hear anything thrashing or hear anyone being punched.”
But even if the fights weren’t violent, they were loud, punctuated by a female voice yelling and a baby wailing.
Tamerlan’s wife, Katherine Russell, and her infant daughter were a more visible presence on the block, Silberman said. Russell wore a hijab that covered her head and neck.
“It was very common to see her walking the baby,” said Silberman, who also had a young child and sometimes tried to engage Russell when they crossed paths. “There was not much conversation at all,” she said, describing her demeanor as “pleasant, but timid.”