Boston bomb suspect just a teen

2013-05-05 12:17
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (FBI/ AP)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (FBI/ AP)

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New York -Three weeks after the deadly Boston Marathon bombings, questions linger about 19-year-old suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a seemingly normal teenager.

His older brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan, had raised red flags, including with Russian authorities, over his apparent radicalisation.

But there never were similar suspicions about Dzhokhar - called "Jahar" by his friends - who remains locked up under strict security at a prison hospital and stands accused of carrying out with his brother the bombings that killed three people and wounded 264 last month.

To his father, he was "an angel." To those who knew him at school, he was "cool," "sweet" and "smart." All signs pointed to the ethnic Chechen teen with the tussled hair being nothing more than an ordinary student.

He had a car, liked to listen to loud music, had enough money to take a few trips to New York City with his friends.

On scholarship at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, Tsarnaev lived on campus and, in addition to attending the gym, he was known for smoking pot, drinking beer and partying.

Poor grades

By his own admission, he was not a stellar student: his grades were poor in most subjects.

His Twitter feed is a digest of the daily mundanities of student life, recounting sleep-deprivation, videogames and laundry. He wrote that he loves peanut butter and Nutella, that he found Miss America sexy, and, two days before the attack, that he got a haircut.

On Russian social network VKontakte, he described his worldview as "Islam," but he also said that "career and money" mattered most.

He was rarely seen at the mosque.

But Dzhokhar admired his older brother, and he seems to have been deeply influenced by his family history.

A Muslim of Chechen origin, Dzhokhar was born in Kyrgyzstan, a member of the Chechen diaspora created from deportations in the 1940s under Russian leader Joseph Stalin.

He spent his early childhood in Kyrgyzstan before his family moved to Dagestan, and then, when he was eight years old, to the United States, where his father was a mechanic in the Boston suburb of Cambridge.

American citizen

He was naturalised as an American citizen last year.

On 14 March 2012, he tweeted, "a decade in America already, I want out."

A month later, he wrote that he was "proud to be from Chechnya." And on New Year's Eve, after spending the day with a Muslim convert, he wrote: "my religion is the truth."

Yet in February 2012, he had been in New York, tweeting "NY was rockin'."

A month before the attacks, Tsarnaev bragged to two Kazakh friends that he knew how to make a bomb. The two friends, who have since recounted the events to investigators, did not raise any alarms.

Tsarnaev has reportedly told investigators that he watched videos online with his brother of American-born al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in September 2011 by a US drone.

The brothers also turned to the internet for instructions on how to make the bombs they used to attack the marathon finish line.

And then, after the attack, Dzhokhar slipped back into his routine, without attracting the least suspicion.

Stress-free kind of guy

He went back to the gym. He kept tweeting. "Ain't no love in the heart of the city, stay safe people," Tsarnaev wrote the evening after the attack.

And, in his last tweet, on 17 April, he declared: "I'm a stress free kind of guy."

So unstressed, or oblivious, that the FBI found the shirt and the hat Tsarnaev wore the day of the attack in his dorm room.

He spent the whole evening of the 17th at the home of Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, his Kazakh friends. On the 18th, he went back to his place in Tazhayakov's car, at around 16:00.

When the FBI published the photos of the suspected attackers an hour later, Dzhokhar, who had left campus shortly before, responded calmly to text messages from Kadyrbayev: "lol," "you better not text me" and "come to my room and take whatever you want."

Accused of using a weapon of mass destruction, Tsarnaev faces the death penalty if convicted.

Read more on:    dzokhar tsarnaev  |  us  |  boston bombings
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