Boston Marathon Explosion

04.19.13

Boston Bombing Suspects: What We Know About the Tsarnaev Brothers

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a police shootout. His brother Dzhokhar is on the run. Caitlin Dickson reports on their Internet history—and what it says about them.

The Tsarnaev brothers have been identified by law enforcement as primary suspects in the bombing attack of the Boston Marathon on April 15. Here is what their Internet history says about the two.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev: Suspect No. 1

Tamerlan, the elder of the two Tsarnaev brothers, was killed late Thursday night after a shootout with police in Watertown, outside Boston. Tamerlan, 26, was originally from Chechnya and a boxer. He was the subject of a photo essay by Johannes Hirn called “Will Box for Passport,” comprised of photos taken before Tamerlan participated in the national Golden Gloves competition in Salt Lake City. According to the essay, Tamerlan had taken a break from his engineering studies at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston to train for the competition. He and his family fled conflict in Chechnya in the early 1990s, living first in Kazakhstan before making it the United States in either 2002 or 2003. NBC News reports that Tamerlan became a legal, permanent resident in 2007. Tamerlan told Hirn at the time that winning enough fights could land him on the U.S. Olympic boxing team and make him a naturalized citizen. If he could not compete for an independent Chechnya, Tamerlan said he’d rather be on the American team than fight for the Russians.

A Muslim, Tamerlan did not drink or smoke and expressed concern that “there are no values anymore” and that “people can’t control themselves.” After five years in the United States, he said, “I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t understand them.”

This YouTube account, registered under the name Tamerlan Tsarnaev, may also belong to the suspect. It was last updated two months ago, with the subscription to a channel called “Allah is the One.” Both of the videos on Tamerlan’s YouTube playlist titled Terrorists have been deleted.

An Amazon wish list also believed to belong to Tamerlan includes such titles as Voice Power: Using Your Voice to Captivate, Persuade, and Command Attention; How to Make Driver’s Licenses and Other ID on Your Home Computer; The ID Forger: Homemade Birth Certificates & Other Documents Explained; and Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends & Influence People, among other guides to fake identification and several books about the Italian Mafia.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: Suspect No. 2

Video screenshot

Ruslan Tsarni, uncle of the Tsarnaev brothers, passionately called on Dzhokhar to turn himself in.

As of Friday morning, Tamerlan’s younger brother, Dzhokhar, is still on the run from police. The 19-year-old reportedly entered the U.S. with his family in 2002 or 2003 and attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was recognized as a Greater Boston League winter all-star for wrestling. He also seems to have received a scholarship of $2,500 from the city of Cambridge in 2011.

According to the Associated Press, the area near Chechnya where both Tsarnaev brothers were from has been a hotbed of Islamic insurgency that’s been responsible for deadly bombings. An uncle of the two men said they’d been living in the U.S. for about 10 years. In a telephone interview from Russia, their father, Anzor Tsarnaev, described Dzhokhar as “a true angel.” He told the AP, “Dzhokhar is a second-year medical student in the U.S. He is such an intelligent boy. We expected him to come on holidays here.”

Some of Dzhokhar’s former classmates echoed those sentiments, telling BuzzFeed that he was “such a sweet sort of guy.” Rebecca Mazur, who was in Dzhokhar’s class at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, said, “I think he seemed to keep to himself in that he was kind of reserved, but his demeanor was always friendly, and he would show up at big social gatherings. He was a familiar part of the community. He didn’t isolate himself.” Another Cambridge Rindge and Latin alum said Dzhokhar was “always friendly and welcoming. I always felt comfortable hanging out with him.”

A Russian Facebook page under the alternative spelling of Dzhokhar’s name, Djohar Tsarnaev, has circulated the Internet this morning. Clues that this page belongs to the same Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that is suspected of carrying out the bombing attack at the Boston Marathon include his birthday, which NBC News has reported is July 22; his current city, listed as Boston; and the last school attended: Cambridge Ridge and Latin School. The Facebook page seems to suggest that Tsarnaev last logged into Facebook on Friday morning, at 5:04 a.m., just hours after the shootout that killed his brother. In only the past several minutes, the Facebook page has been flooded with messages. Few of them are written in English, but the ones that are direct outrage and hate at Dzhokhar and his brother.