Boston bombing: Did the Chechen bombers deliberately plant explosives under Russian flag on race route? Questions raised about motive behind attacks as Obama speaks to Putin about the bombings

// World | Boston bombing: Did the Chechen bombers deliberately plant explosives under Russian flag on race route? Questions raised about motive behind attacks as Obama speaks to Putin about the bombings
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By Snejana Farberov

PUBLISHED: 09:01 EST, 20 April 2013 | UPDATED: 12:28 EST, 20 April 2013

With the 19-year-old suspected Boston bomber in custody but too weak from his injuries to speak to police, officials are struggling to come up with a motive - but a photo from the marathon may hold a key clue. 

Pictures taken in the moments after the deadly blasts that left three dead and nearly 180 injured show that the explosives packed inside rigged pressure cookers were planted next to a Russian flag that hung among other banners along the street.

It has been revealed that the prime suspects in the bombings are Chechen brothers, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his 19-year-old sibling, Dzhokhar.

If investigators prove that the Tsarnaev brothers were aligned with the decades-long Chechen fight for independence previously, the Boston attacks would mark the first time that Chechen separatists had struck on foreign soil.

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Motive or coincidence? One of the bombs was planted close to the Russian flag on the marathon route, raising suspicions that the bombers were aligned with the Chechen separatists

Motive or coincidence? One of the bombs was planted close to the Russian flag on the marathon route, raising suspicions that the bombers were aligned with Chechen separatists

History of violence: Chechnya has been locked in a bloody struggle for independence with Russia, which had been punctuated with nearly a dozen terrorist attacks on Russian soil

History of violence: Chechnya has been locked in a bloody struggle for independence with Russia, which had been punctuated with nearly a dozen terrorist attacks on Russian soil

The younger of the Tsaranev had been captured Friday night following an intense manhunt that culminated with a police gunfight.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who is suspected of having received military training abroad last year, was shot dead during an armed confrontation with authorities the night before.  

Addressing the nation Friday following the younger Tsarnaev's capture, President Obama acknowledged that many unanswered questions remain about the motivations of the two men accused of perpetrating the attacks.

'The families of those killed so senselessly deserve answers,' said Obama, who branded the suspects 'terrorists.'

The president spoke from the White House briefing room after 10pm on the East Coast, just over an hour after law enforcement officials apprehended 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The suspect had been holed up in in a boat in a Watertown, Mass., neighborhood. His older brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was also wanted in the bombings and was killed earlier Friday in an attempt to escape police, authorities said.

The capture of the second suspect capped a frenzied week in Boston, Washington and elsewhere around the country.

Obama urged the public against rushing to judgment as officials seek answers to the many questions that remain.

'When a tragedy like this happens, with public safety at risk and the stakes so high, it's important that we do this right,' he said.

The prime suspects in the bombings are Chechen brothers, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev (right) and his 19-year-old sibling, Dzhokhar (left)

The prime suspects in the bombings are Chechen brothers, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev (right) and his 19-year-old sibling, Dzhokhar (left)

The suspects were described as casually walking away after witnessing the blasts

The suspects were described as casually walking away after witnessing the blasts

National identity: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (pictured in white cap) was born in Kyrgyzstan and never set foot in Chechnya, but identified himself as a proud Chechen

National identity: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (pictured in white cap) was born in Kyrgyzstan and never set foot in Chechnya, but identified himself as a proud Chechen

 VIDEO  Second Boston bombing suspect arrest after armed standoff 

'That's why we take care not to rush to judgment - not about the motivations of these individuals, certainly not about entire groups of people.'

The Tsranaev family, who are ethnic Chechens, lived in Kyrgyzstan and then moved to Dagestan in the 1990s before finally seeking asylum in the US in 2002.

'This family is a very rare episode. Very few make it here, even fewer get green cards,' Glen Howard, president of the Jamestown Foundation, told USA Today.

According to the newspaper, fewer than 200 Chechen immigrants currently living in the US, and most of them reside in the Boston area.

About 70 per cent of the Chechen immigrants are women because very few men are granted asylum over terrorism concerns.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Chechnya has been locked in a bloody struggle for independence with Russia, which had been punctuated with nearly a dozen terrorist attacks on Russian soil. 

The latest bombing took place January 2011 when the Domodedovo airport in Moscow was rocked by an explosion that killed at least 6 people and left more than 130 injured. Islamist insurgent Daku Umarov later claimed responsibility for the attack.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was born in Kyrgyzstan and never set foot in Chechnya, but identified himself as a proud Chechen on a social media site as well as on his Twitter account.

He wrote: 'Proud to be from Chechnya, I miss my homeland,' accompanied by the hashtag 'chechnyanpower.'

His older brother, Tamerlan, who was a competitive boxer in Boston, said in a 2009 interview that if he cannot represent Chechnya in the Olympics, he would rather become a naturalized US citizen and compete for America than for Russia. 

Since the bombings in Boston, Russian and Chechen officials alike were quick to point out that the Tsarnaevs have been out of the country for more than two decades and have no ties to Chechnya. 

War of words: Speaking in the Chechen capital Grozny (pictured), the Russian-installed leader of Chechnya criticized the US for their role in the upbringing of ethnic Chechens suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings

War of words: Speaking in the Chechen capital Grozny (pictured), the Russian-installed leader of Chechnya criticized the US for their role in the upbringing of ethnic Chechens suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings

Home sweet home: A house where Tsarnaev brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, lived in before leaving for Dagestan, in a small Kyrgyz city Tokmok

Home sweet home: A house where Tsarnaev brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, lived in before leaving for Dagestan, in a small Kyrgyz city Tokmok

FBI officials confirmed Friday that they questioned Tamerlan Tsaranaev in 2011 at the request of the Russian government about possible ties to Chechen separatists, but he was let go because the investigation found 'no derogatory information.'

However, Chechen extremists have never struck outside of Russia - possibly until now. One explanation for the Boston bombings is that the siblings were swayed by radical jihadism rather than Chechen separatism, the Washington Post reported.

Russian forces officially left Chechnya in 2009, but their departure was marked by a rise in violence in neighboring countries in the Caucasus region, including Dagestan, where the Tsranaevs once sought refuge, and where the brothers' parents currently reside.

According to an official familiar with Tamerlan Tsranaev's travels last year, the 26-year-old spent six months in Dagestan. 

Travel records obtained by NBC 4 New York show that the 26-year-old left New York January 12, 2012, en route to Moscow. He returned to JFK July 17.

Documents show a photo of a bearded Tsarnaev. According to the records, he was born October 21, 1986 and first entered US through JFK July 19, 2003. 

Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader, said in a statement that attempts ‘to draw a parallel between Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs, if they are guilty, are futile. They grew up in the U.S., and their views and beliefs were formed there. The roots of the evil should be looked for in America.’

Russian authorities said that they were unable to provide their American counterparts with any valuable information about the Tsranaevs since the family had lived out of the country for many years.

One trail in the search for clues about why two ethnic Chechen brothers may have carried out the Boston Marathon bombings leads to a sleepy town in Kyrgyzstan where former neighbors recall a quiet family that was never in trouble.

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are remembered as decent and obedient boys from their time in the 1990s in the small community of Chechens in Tokmok, a leafy town under the snow-capped Tien Shan mountains outside the capital Bishkek.

Siblings: Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26 (left), was shot and killed in a gunfight with police, while his younger brother, Dzhokhar (right), was captured alive after a tense manhunt and standoff

Search over: Law enforcement officials are seen in front of 67 Franklin St. in Watertown, where the badly wounded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been found hiding inside a boat

Search over: Law enforcement officials are seen in front of 67 Franklin St. in Watertown, where the badly wounded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been found hiding inside a boat

Waiting for answers: Police have so far been unable to question Dzhokhar, who was taken to a hospital in serious condition

Waiting for answers: Police have so far been unable to question Dzhokhar, who was taken to a hospital in serious condition

Tamerlan, the elder of the two, studied well. His father, Anzor, made a living selling used cars and was welcomed with open arms when he visited the town again two years ago, 10 years after the family left for Russia and then the United States.

The news that Tamerlan had been shot dead by police and Dzhokhar captured after a day-long manhunt on suspicion of carrying out Monday's bombing, in which three people were killed, was greeted with shock and disbelief.

‘The Tsarnaevs were such a good family. They yearned to be well-educated. None of them were rowdy. It was a very cultured family,’ said former neighbor Raisa Kaayeva, a middle-aged housewife who is also an ethnic Chechen.

‘I feel it with my heart - these boys were framed. Why did they go to this America? They should have stayed in Russia to lead a quiet life. Now they have been made scapegoats. I pity these boys. I was weeping when I saw it on TV - their lives were broken, as well as the lives of their mother and father.’

Badrudi Tsokayev, a friend of the father, waved his hands repeatedly as he described his shock at hearing the news. Like others who recalled the family, he saw no signs of radicalism.

‘I wouldn't imagine seeing this even in a nightmare,’ Tsokayev, 60, said. ‘As a child, Tamerlan was such a quiet boy. Today everyone is calling me with just one question - is this true?’

He said Anzor Tsarnaev had been fiercely proud of Tamerlan's prowess in the boxing ring and said his son had been looking forward to going to the Russian city of Sochi to watch the 2014 Winter Olympics next February.

Kyrgyzstan, a mainly Muslim nation of 5.5 million which hosts U.S. and Russian military air bases, had a huge influx of ethnic Chechens in 1944.

Hundreds of thousands of Chechens and ethnically close Ingush were evicted from their homes in the North Caucasus and moved to Central Asia in cattle wagons after being accused by dictator Josef Stalin of collaborating with Nazi Germany.

About 99,000 of the Chechens and Ingush ended up in what was then the Kyrgyz Soviet republic.
In Tokmok, the Tsarnaev clan alone inhabited a whole street before most of them moved back to their native village of Chiri-Yurt in Chechnya in the 1960s, residents said.

About 20 Chechen families still live in a district popularly known as the Glass Factory, after the building that dominates it.

Relief

Relief: President Barack Obama praised the law enforcement officials who worked together to apprehend marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19

 VIDEO  'It's been a tough week.' President Obama praises law-enforcement teams

 

The Tsarnaev family, which also includes two daughters, Bella and Amina, had the status of refugees at the time they moved to Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, from the war-torn Kyrgyzstan in the 1990s.

'Taking into account the fact that the suspects left the republic when they were eight and 15 years old, the State Committee for National Security considers it inappropriate to link them to Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz security service said.

The parents and Dzhokhan Tsarnaev emigrated to the US first in 2002. Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his sisters lived for a few months with relatives in Kazakhstan before reuniting with their parents in 2003, according to his aunt.

He became a legal permanent resident in 2007, officials said.

On September 11, 2012 - the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks - the younger Tsarnaev sibling became a naturalized US citizen, after passing a criminal background check, a US civics and English test, and completing an interview with a federal immigration officer.

The suspected bombers' aunt Maret Tsarnaeva told Canadian news organizations she moved to Canada in 1996, then filled in the paperwork for her siblings to follow.

Maret, a lawyer, said the brothers' father spent several years in America but left after being beaten on the streets of Boston. She did not go into any details of the attack.

She also claimed her father -- the suspected bombers' grandfather -- had been 'blown to bits' in an unexplained incident in Russia.  

On Friday, President Barack Obama called his Russian counterpart to thank him for cooperation in the wake of the Boston attacks.

In a statement, the White House said President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences on behalf of the Russian people.

In the loop: President Barack Obama receives an update on the Boston bombing investigation from Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, after the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

In the loop: President Barack Obama receives an update on the Boston bombing investigation from Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, after the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

The White House said Obama ‘praised the close cooperation that the United States has received from Russia on counter-terrorism, including in the wake of the Boston attack.

The White House statement said the two leaders agreed to continue cooperation on counterterrorism and security issues going forward.

FBI officials investigating the bombings are hoping to get more answers about the motive behind the attacks once the doctors clear the severely wounded Dzhokhar Tsranaev for questioning.

 

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