Bomber’s trip to Rus­sia de­tailed

A cousin says Tamer­lan Tsar­naev was in­tent on ji­had.

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By Richard A. Ser­rano richard.ser­rano@la­times.com Twit­ter: @Rick­Ser­ra­noLAT

BOS­TON — De­fense lawyers seek­ing to per­suade a jury to spare Dzhokhar Tsar­naev’s life con­tin­ued Wed­nes­day to blame his dead older brother for the Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ings, in­sist­ing he was a Mus­lim ex­trem­ist bent on vi­o­lence long be­fore the April 2013 attack.

The older brother, Tamer­lan, had vis­ited his fam­ily’s home­land in Dages­tan, Rus­sia, for six months in 2012 and ap­peared ob­sessed with join­ing Mus­lim mil­i­tants there. “I came here to get in­volved in ji­had,” he told a cousin, ac­cord­ing to an FBI re­port.

The de­fense team cited that de­tail and oth­ers from a pre­vi­ously un­known FBI in­ter­view with the cousin two months af­ter the bomb­ings. The lawyers hope the ev­i­dence bol­sters their por­trayal of Tamer­lan as the mas­ter­mind of the Bos­ton attack and his younger brother as an ac­com­plice un­der his con­trol.

The cousin, Magomed Kar­tashov, was ar­rested by Rus­sia’s se­cu­rity po­lice in Dages­tan shortly af­ter the bomb­ings, and had spent 40 days in jail when the FBI in­ter­viewed him.

It wasn’t clear Wed­nes­day whether Kar­tashov was ar­rested be­cause he was sus­pected of play­ing a role in the case, whether he knew about plans in ad­vance, or was be­ing held on other charges. His cur­rent sta­tus is un­known.

Ac­cord­ing to the FBI re­port of the in­ter­view, Kar­tashov said he and other fam­ily mem­bers had watched TV cov­er­age in Rus­sia of the Bos­ton bomb­ings, and that he sus­pected Tamer­lan might have been in­volved.

Kar­tashov told the FBI that Tamer­lan boasted of his re­solve to join an ex­trem­ist group al­most from the start of his visit, and spoke of join­ing mil­i­tants in Syria, the Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory or Rus­sia it­self be­fore he re­turned to Bos­ton in fall 2012.

He also said Tamer­lan liked to quote verses from the Ko­ran at fam­ily gath­er­ings in Dages­tan and in on­line chat rooms.

“He knew some parts of the Ko­ran,” Kar­tashov said. “There was a par­tic­u­lar one that Tamer­lan used that said, ‘Cut their heads off and make them kneel in front of you.’ ”

Kar­tashov said he and oth­ers ex­plained that web­sites from rad­i­cal groups gave the wrong idea about con­di­tions in Dages­tan. “Tamer­lan was un­der the im­pres­sion that here was ji­had in the streets,” he told the FBI.

Af­ter Tamer­lan asked whether he “had any rad­i­cal con­nec­tions to Is­lam” and or other con­nec­tions to mil­i­tants, Kar­tashov warned him to “stop talk­ing like that” or he would put their lives in dan­ger.

He said Tamer­lan calmed down. But be­fore he re­turned to Bos­ton, he told Kar­tashov, “You’ve con­vinced my head but my heart still wants to do some­thing.”

De­fense lawyers ar­gue that Tamer­lan dom­i­nated and in­tim­i­dated Dzhokhar, who was 19 at the time of the bomb­ings, seven years younger than his brother.

The broth­ers det­o­nated two home­made bombs near the race fin­ish line, killing three peo­ple and in­jur­ing more than 260 oth­ers.

Tamer­lan was killed dur­ing the po­lice man­hunt that fol­lowed. Dzhokhar was con­victed of 30 charges, in­clud­ing 17 that carry the death penalty. His lawyers are try­ing to con­vince the jury to in­stead sen­tence him to life in pri­son with­out pa­role.

De­fense lawyers also brought to court sev­eral of Dzhokhar’s for­mer teach­ers, who re­called him as “quiet, friendly and hum­ble” and a “re­ally lovely per­son.”

Pros­e­cu­tors coun­tered that be­hav­ior was years be­fore he took part in the bomb­ings.

A col­lege friend, Tiar­rah Dot­tin, de­scribed Dzhokhar as “quiet, loyal and kind of fun,” but shy and hard to know. Un­der cross ex­am­i­na­tion by pros­e­cu­tors, she said she did not know he was se­cretly read­ing ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda on his school com­puter.

Alexa Gue­vara, an­other col­lege friend, cried on the wit­ness stand. “I re­ally miss the per­son that I knew,” she said.

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