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Early Stages of Boston Investigation Yields Family Stories, Bomb Fragments

April 22, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Though Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in custody, he is unable to speak due to injuries and investigators must wait until he is lucid before questioning him. Jeffrey Brown talks with NPR's Dina Temple-Raston more about the suspect charged in the Boston bombing case and what authorities are learning about his family.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we’re joined now by a reporter who has been following developments closely.

Dina Temple Raston is NPR’s anti-terrorism correspondent.

Dina, welcome to you.

Do we know how much or what investigators are learning from Tsarnaev in the hospital so far?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, National Public Radio: Well, there’s been very little that they have learned because he can’t — we understand that he can’t speak, that he has actually a tube in his throat. And he has some sort of a wound on his neck and his hand and apparently to his jaw. There’s some question as to whether or not it was a self-inflicted wound.

So as a result, apparently, they’re writing notes back and forth. And it’s unclear if those notes are rapport-building, so that he learns to trust these people who are trying to question him or whether they’re getting substantive information from him.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, what can you tell us about the focus of the investigation right now? What do investigators see as the most important leads?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, one of the things is they can’t really question the younger suspect, suspect number two, the one who had that white basketball cap on, until he is really lucid.

And because of that, they have sort of concentrated their efforts on what his older brother was up to over the past sort of couple of years. You mentioned in your piece that there was a 2011 interview that the FBI had with the older brother at the request of the Russian government. They basically said they thought he had links to radical Islamists in Russia and wanted the FBI to sort of investigate that.

The FBI couldn’t find anything that he had done illegal. So they allowed him to leave. And then we subsequently learned that he went to Russia last year. And he was there for six months. What they’re looking for now is, what was he doing while he was in Russia? Was he training, for example? Was he meeting with radical Islamists who might have help radicalize him?

Those are the sort of threads that they’re pulling now to try to put something some sort of motif about what happened leading up to these bombings.

JEFFREY BROWN: And in response to the questions that have come about whether the FBI did enough to check out — to check him out at the request of the Russians, what’s the response so far?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, you know, if he wasn’t doing something illegal, there’s only so much that the FBI can do in terms of an investigation.

They went to his house. They asked questions. Apparently, they had tea with his family. But if he wasn’t doing anything illegal, they’re not allowed to follow him. And this has been the back-and-forth that has been going on now, as there’s been finger-pointing because this happened. They’re asking why the FBI didn’t follow up.

Well, if he’s not doing something illegal, they’re not allowed to follow him.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, they’re looking over there. They’re also looking of course in Boston into the lives of these two.

And one of the questions is about the turn to religion, if you will, by Tamerlan and the possible turn to radicalization by both of them. How much is known?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, what we understand — and there was a great article in The Wall Street Journal this morning that really pieced a lot of this together by a huge team at The Wall Street Journal — basically, what we understand is that his mother became more devout.

And then the older brother, Tamerlan, sort of followed in her model and became more devout as well and became quite radical in his beliefs. We know that he was visiting jihadi websites. We know that he actually posted some things, it seems, some pro-al-Qaida or at least pro-radical Islam.

What it seems to be — and again this is very early days in the investigation, and so, you know, they keep saying that in the early days of the investigation, you’re almost always wrong when you jump to conclusions. But in these early days of the investigation, it appears that the older brother had a tremendous amount — or held great sway over the younger brother, and that the younger brother didn’t seem to have any outward signs of this sort of radical Islam — Islamic belief, but followed in the footsteps of his older brother.

So that’s what investigators are going to try to find out when they finally get to talk to him in the hospital. And, as you mentioned in your piece, they did end up Mirandizing him, reading him his rights. And there was some question as to whether or not they would use something called the public safety exception, which basically says you don’t have to read someone their Miranda rights if you believe that the public safety is in danger.

So, in other words, you know, if you thought that if you read him his rights, he might remain silent about co-conspirators or bombs that might be elsewhere in Boston or in the surrounding area — and I guess they made the determination that that wasn’t necessary, and so they read him his rights right away.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, a couple other areas of the investigation that continues. One, of course, they’re still looking at the bombs, right, bomb fragments that they pick up from the site. Another one is that apparently federal investigators are trying to interview the older Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife at this point, and I gather get have been in touch with his — with her attorney.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: That’s right. Yes.

And in addition to that, I mean, they have more than just bomb fragments. What they found in the apartment and in the back of a car that they carjacked on Thursday night was something that looked — bombs that looked very much like the fragments that they had found at the sites — at the two bombing sites at the Boston Marathon. And these were bombs that had a low-grade explosive.

And we know this from the criminal complaint that was released today. The bombs were a low-grade explosive that were inside these rice cookers or pressure cookers. And, in fact, at one point during this car chase on Thursday night, they actually lit one of these kinds of bombs and threw it at police. And it became — you know, and it was partially exploded, so it became more evidence in the case.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Dina, let me just ask you finally, briefly, one of the strange aspects to this, of course, is that in the days after the bombing, it looks as though the two brothers went back to life, went back to business as usual?


Well, we know and we have been reporting for a while that the younger brother was tweeting. And one of the last things, he tweeted a Jay-Z lyric on Wednesday and then actually tweeted, “I’m a no sweat kind of guy” or something to that effect, or “I’m a no-stress guy” is what he said on Wednesday. He went to a party. He was hanging out with his friends.

So clearly they were trying to act as if nothing had happened. And clearly they didn’t understand just how much surveillance there was around the finish line at the Boston Marathon. What we found out is they have surveillance video that is very clear and seems to completely have the younger Tsarnaev dead to rights on being there at the second bombing site dropping his backpack, and having the bomb blast just minutes — just actually seconds later.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston, thanks so much.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: You’re welcome. Thank you.