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Boston Bombing News: The Question of “The Evil Older Brother”

In light of recent reports and defense motions, it might be useful to summarize what we know, or think we know, about Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

In 2009 a domestic violence complaint de-railed his desire for U.S. citizenship, and may have put him in a position to be coerced into becoming an FBI informant. He admitted to slapping his girlfriend; charges were dropped.

January 2011: Possible first contact with the FBI (New York Times). March 2011: First “official” contact with the FBI. No specific evidence of a threat, but the Russians allegedly sent a vague warning. According to the Feds, they cleared him of being a threat, and closed his file.

In Spring 2011 he befriended Don Larking, a man with “some loss of mental acuity” who had an interest in conspiracy theories. According to Larkin, Tamerlan believed in “majestic mind control” and “heard voices” forcing him to do things he didn’t want to do … I googled “majestic mind control” and found myself in the twilight zone. UFO conspiracy theorists allege there is a government committee known as Majestic 12, which was created to study UFOs. They also claim MJ-12 is allied with the NSA and CIA … Was TT talking about supernatural voices? Or, did he actually tell Larkin that he was being controlled by a government agency which was forcing him to betray his fellow Muslims, and did conspiracy-theorist Larkin embroider a bit?

His failure to attend Brendan Mess’ funeral in September 2011 is touted as evidence of his guilt in the Waltham murders. Other possible reasons: 1) Some imams say it is not permitted for a Muslim to attend a non-Muslim funeral. TT may have decided to adhere to that strict interpretation of Islamic law. 2) TBMB has speculated that he too was a drug dealer, and wanted to keep a low profile to avoid meeting Brendan’s fate.

In January 2012, he went to Dagestan, where he often smiled broadly and chatted up strangers, “neither of which are common acts on the streets of Dagestan”. Allegedly he met with radicals and tried to join the Caucasus insurgency, but was rejected because he didn’t fit in (or possibly because they had spotted him as a double agent). WhoWhatWhy says he “could not have expected such provocative activity to escape the notice of the Russian authorities.” But curiously, Russia sent the FBI no further warnings about him. In July 2012 he returned to the U.S. and began acting like a radical, making noisy scenes in mosques and posting inflammatory messages online. Is this the behavior of a well-trained jihadist, or an informant trolling for would-be FBI targets?

April 15, 2013: Jeff Bauman was waiting for his girlfriend to cross the finish line. “A man behind him, about five feet to his right, caught his eye. The man was wearing a dark, heavy coat, sunglasses, a backpack and a baseball cap. He looked strange. He looked serious. Bauman looked away. He scanned for [his girlfriend] again, and then looked back. The man was gone, but his backpack was on the sidewalk. Then Bauman saw a flash and heard a bang.”

In another version of the story, the man with the backpack “was right next to” Bauman. “He kind of stared at me, and I stared at him.” As already noted, eye contact is hard to discern when sunglasses are involved. And if TT was actually standing behind Bauman, five feet away in a crowd, why target Bauman in particular to stare at?

The estimated time frame between backpack-man’s exit and the blast also tends to vary. One version says: “It was quick – he was there, and then he was gone, and then, ‘Boom!’” So Tamerlan, like Dzhokhar, would seem to have shown “spunky carelessness” in not giving himself time to get a safe distance away from a lethal bomb.

Why do different accounts of Mr. Bauman’s story vary in the details? I am very sorry that this young man lost his legs, and I have no doubt that he is being truthful about what he saw, but we all know that witness accounts can be guided by clever interviewers.

Update: In his book, Bauman assert’s that the evil-eyed backpack-man was wearing a white cap, not a black one. How could that have been Tamerlan?

According to Tamerlan’s parents, an FBI agent warned him on April 16 or 17 that he was a suspect, and he responded “That’s your problem!” On April 18, the FBI showed us photos and video of the Tsarnaevs, saying they had “no other choice” because they really had no idea who these guys were. Really.

How did the shootout begin? The official story is that Tamerlan got out of the van and started shooting at the officer who was slowly following him. However, police scanner transcripts reported: “Shots fired from the vehicle in question, shots fired at officers trying to stop the vehicle.” That could be two ways of describing the same event. Or, not. Andrew Kitzenberg and his roommmate reported a high-speed car chase, with cars crashing into houses. How did that happen?

We now have an additional story to contemplate: during the shootout, Tamerlan initiated a second suicidal assault on a cop, this time in a driveway. Possible reasons for such behavior, if he really did this? 1) He was crazy. 2) He wanted to be a martyr. 3) He decided to draw police fire to himself in order to give Dzhokhar a chance to escape. After being shot multiple times in the driveway, he demonstrated the same super-powers that have been attributed to Ibragim Todashev. Instead of falling down, he pursued the cop back into the street, where he was run over by the van.

Emergency room personnel have stated that he “had injuries head to toe and all limbs intact when he arrived at the hospital … he had so many penetrating wounds that it isn’t clear which ones killed him … he did not appear to have been run over.”

Katherine Tsarnaev declined to claim her husband’s body, saying through her lawyer that she wanted the Tsarnaev family to have it. She moved back in with her parents the day after her husband’s death, and has returned to using her maiden name. But oddly, she has served notice to her family that she intends to remain a Muslim. In January 2014, she was photographed in traffic court wearing a hijab.

May 11, 2013: After protestors carrying signs such as “Bury the trash in the landfill” made it difficult to get Tamerlan buried, he was finally laid to rest in Al-Barzakh Muslim Cemetery in Virginia. Uncle Ruslan took charge of the arrangements, and expressed outrage that Tamerlan’s parents did not bring the body back to Russia. (Personally, I feel the same way.)

I recently ran across a charming photo of Tamerlan hugging his daughter, which of course proves nothing about his guilt or innocence. But it does speak to his humanity (which was denied him for a month after his death). It also speaks to my sadness about the fact that, in order to save Dzhokhar’s life, defense counsel may be forced to demonize the “evil older brother.”

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