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Friday, April 19, 2013
Suspect on the run became a US citizen last year on Sept. 11
Ruslan Tsarni speaks out about his relationship with his nephews, who he says he hasn't seen in years, saying "somebody radicalized them" and "I just wanted my family to be away from them."
By Jonathan Dienst and Erin McClam
One became an American citizen last year on Sept. 11. The other was a boxer who once said: “I like the USA.”
The two known suspects in the attack on the Boston Marathon — one killed, one on the loose — are brothers with a background in the separatist Russian republic of Chechnya, law enforcement officials told NBC News.
The suspect at large early Friday was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, born in Kyrgyzstan, who became a naturalized American citizen on Sept. 11, 2012, according to documents obtained by NBC News. He had a Massachusetts driver’s license and was living in the Boston suburb of Cambridge. He was the suspect in the white hat in surveillance photos from the marathon released by the FBI, authorities said.
His brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed overnight after an extraordinary crime spree: The brothers shot and killed a college security officer, carjacked an SUV and hurled explosives as police in Watertown, Mass., authorities said.
Authorities were not sure of a motive and cautioned that other people may be involved. NBC News learned that counterterrorism officials were examining possible links between the brothers and the Islamic Jihad Union of central Asia, a terrorist group. Chechnya is predominantly Muslim.
“Somebody radicalized them, but it wasn’t my brother,” the men’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, told reporters Friday from Montgomery Village, Md. He encouraged his nephew to turn himself in and said the two had brought shame on Chechens. He said that he had encouraged his own family to stay away from that part of the family.
“What I think was behind it: Being losers,” he said. “Of course we’re ashamed.”
The brothers’ father, speaking from Russia, told The Associated Press that Dzhokhar was “a true angel” with an interest in medicine. He was registered as a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, the school said. He was awarded a $2,500 city scholarship toward college two years ago.
Sierra Schwartz, who identified herself as a high school friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, told NBC News that he had lots of friends and did not seem to brood.
A tense night of police activity that left a university officer dead on campus just days after the Boston Marathon bombings and amid a hunt for two suspects caused officers to converge on a neighborhood outside Boston, where residents heard gunfire and explosions.
Cambridge is a melting-pot city of about 100,000, fairly well-off and home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The other brother, Tamerlan, killed in the firefight with law enforcement, was identified as 26 and born in Russia. He became a legal permanent resident in 2007, the officials said. He was the suspect in the black hat in the FBI photos.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev studied at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston and wanted to become an engineer, according to a profile that appeared in a Boston University magazine in 2010. He said that he hoped to become an American citizen and one day join the U.S. Olympic boxing team.
He told the magazine that his family fled Chechnya in the 1990s because of the conflict there, and that he lived in Kazakhstan. While he had been in the United States for several years by that point, he said in the profile: “I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t understand them.”
He also said that he was a Muslim who did not smoke or drink.
Travel records obtained by NBC New York showed that Tamerlan Tsarnaev left the country for six months, from Jan. 12 to July 17, 2012, for Sheremetyevo, Russia. The records show that it was not until 6 a.m. Friday that he was labeled by American officials to be “a person or instrument that may pose a threat to the security of the United States.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev boxed in a 2004 tournament as part of a program called Golden Gloves, according to The Lowell Sun newspaper. He told the newspaper then: “I like the USA.”
He said that his first love was music, and that he played the piano and violin.
“America has a lot of jobs,” he said. “That’s something Russia doesn’t have. You have a chance to make money here if you are willing to work.”
His former wrestling coach, John Curran, described him to NBC News as quiet and courteous and said that he was “flabbergasted” by the news.
The father, Anzor Tsarnaev, said that he had seen on television that his son was killed.
“They were set up!” he exclaimed, according to the AP.
Both men were believed to have entered the country with their family in 2002 or 2003, when the family sought asylum. Law enforcement officials initially told NBC News that they may have had military experience, but the nature was not clear. Later in the morning, U.S. Army officials told NBC knows that no one matching either name had served in the active-duty Army, or the reserves.
Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim part of Russia with a turbulent history. It declared independence in 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Chechnya fought war with Russia for much of the 1990s, and Chechens have been involved in terrorist attacks in Russia in the years since.
In 2002, Chechen militants seized a Moscow theater and held 800 people hostage for two days. Special forces raided the building and killed 41 hostage-takers; 129 hostages were killed, mostly from gas used by Russian forces.
In 2004, Chechen insurgents took hundreds of hostages in the Russian town of Beslan. The siege came to a bloody end two days later, and 330 people, about half children, were killed.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed after a chaotic chase and firefight with police early Friday. Authorities were conducting a house-to-house search in the Boston suburb of Watertown for his brother, who was considered armed and extremely dangerous. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick ordered people in Boston and some suburbs to stay inside.