The surviving Boston bombings suspect is so seriously injured that investigators may struggle to interrogate him effectively, it was suggested on Sunday, as further questions were raised about the FBI’s previous contacts with his dead brother.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old accused of planting the pressure-cooker bombs with his older brother Tamerlan, was being treated in hospital for a reported bullet wound to the throat and was unable to speak. He was captured on Friday night, a day after a violent gun battle with police that left Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, dead.
As the FBI waited to question Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, it faced intense scrutiny over its prior contacts with his brother. One congressman accused the FBI of having “dropped the ball”.
The bureau admitted that it interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev in early 2011 at the request of a foreign government, believed to be Russia, which had concerns he was linked to Islamist terrorism. The authorities in Chechnya, where the Tsarnaev family has roots, denied any such link. But the FBI was scrambling to find out more about a six-month visit Tamerlan Tsarnaev made to Russia in 2012, including whether he visited other countries in the troubled North Caucasus region.
In Boston, the condition of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev meant it was unlikely that the FBI would get any early leads from him. Authorities said he was in a serious condition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where security was tight on Sunday.
‘He’s in a condition where we can’t get any information’
Boston mayor Tom Menino told This Week on ABC that he was so seriously ill that agents might never be able to interrogate him. “We don’t know if we’ll ever be able to question the individual,” he said.
Dan Coats, a Republican member of the Senate intelligence committee, said it was unclear whether Tsarnaev would be able to talk again. “The information that we have is that there was a shot to the throat,” Coats told ABC. “It doesn’t mean he can’t communicate, but right now I think he’s in a condition where we can’t get any information from him at all.”
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured, bloody and wounded, late on Friday night in a Boston suburb, after a resident discovered a bloody trail leading to a boat in his backyard.
Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, described “chilling” surveillance video from the Boston Marathon bombings which showed the younger brother at the heart of the attacks. The film shows him dropping his backpack and calmly waking away before the bomb exploded, Patrick said.
“It does seem to be pretty clear that this suspect took the backpack off, put it down, did not react when the first explosion went off and then moved away from the backpack in time for the second explosion,” Patrick said on NBC. “It’s pretty clear about his involvement and pretty chilling, frankly.” He added, however, that he had not viewed all the tapes but that he had been briefed by law enforcement.
Investigators have said the bombs were made from pressure cookers packed with explosives, nails and ball bearings which were hidden in black nylon backpacks. Three people were killed and more than 180 injured when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, about four hours into the race. The brothers are also suspected of killing a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer on Thursday and severely injuring a transit police officer.
The FBI faced questions from lawmakers on Sunday about whether it failed to identify Tamerlan Tsarnaev as a threat to the US. Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, told CNN’s State of the Union that the FBI had questions to answer. “He was interviewed by the FBI in 2011 and let go. He travelled back to Russia and spent six months there,” McCaul said.
McCaul said he wanted to know why no “flags” were put on Tsarnaev that would have helped officials track his movements.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s trip to Russia in 2012 appears to have become a focus of the investigation. His family has claimed he went to Dagestan to visit his father, but an aunt, Patimat Suleimanova, said Tsarnaev arrived in the area before his father. Tsernaev left the United States in January 2012 and arrived in Dagestan around March, Suleimanova said. His father, Anzor Tsarnaev, only arrived in the republic in May.
“He came to become acquainted with [Dagestan],” Suleimanova said. “Hewould sit at home and pray. He was learning to read the Qur’an. He sawrelatives, friends.”
‘His views aren’t mainstream’
The FBI was criticised on Sunday for failing to follow up on Tsarnaev after its contacts in 2011. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, told CNN’s State of the Nation: “The ball was dropped in one of two ways. The FBI missed a lot of things.”
Republican Peter King, chairman of the House subcommittee on counterterrorism, was also critical. “This is the firth case I’m aware of where the FBI has failed to stop someone,” he told Fox News Sunday, citing the cases of al-Qaida recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki, Little Rock shooter Carlos Bledsoe, the accused Fort Hood killer Nidal Malik and alleged American-Pakistani terrorist David Coleman Headley.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that a hold was placed on a citizenship request by the 26-year-old as a result of the FBI’s former interest in him. Officials at the Department of Homeland Security decided not to grant his application after a routine background check uncovered the 2011 interview by agents, the report said.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been asked to leave a mosque in Cambridge, Massachusetts, three months ago, after he interrupted a prayer service to argue with the imam, who had referred to Martin Luther King Jr. A member of the mosque present at the service told the LA Times that Tsarnaev shouted: “You cannot mention this guy because he’s not a Muslim!”
Imam Suhaib Webb, of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the city’s largest mosque, said in an interview that he had recently heard of the incident. “That’s a sign right there that his views aren’t mainstream,” Webb said.
Bostonians gathered to remember the victims on Sunday. A few blocks from where the bombs exploded less than a week ago, hundreds packed into the Church of the Covenant in Boston. The church had thrown open its doors to worshippers from the city’s Old South Church, located in the police area still closed off to the public, and most of the pews were full as the service began.
The scale of the bombings was immediately apparent as around half the congregation responded to a request from Rev Dr Jim Antal, president of the Massachusetts United Church of Christ, to raise their hands they were near the explosions or knew someone who was. “Now raise your hand if you have visited or spoken with someone who was injured,” Antal said. Dozens of people had.
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