By Phil Mattingly, David McLaughlin and Janelle Lawrence
BOSTON - Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has communicated to investigators that he and his older brother alone were responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings and motivated by extremist Islam, according to a U.S. official briefed on the initial interrogation.
By nodding his head and occasionally by writing -- a gunshot wound to his neck prevents him from speaking -- Tsarnaev, 19, indicated that he and his brother, Tamerlan, 26, who was killed in a police shootout, weren’t aligned with any known terrorist or military groups, the official said.
Two federal law enforcement officials cautioned that the questioning of Tsarnaev, and the broader investigation, are at an early stage. The probe is covering the Tsarnaevs’ travel, communications and history as they work to pin down the motivation for the attack.
The complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Boston yesterday painted the younger Tsarnaev as coldly planting the second of the two bombs that rocked a city and a nation on April 15. It charges him with crimes that could carry the death penalty.
Based in part on video collected from security cameras and witnesses, the complaint describes how Tsarnaev stood for four minutes with a bomb-laden backpack at his feet and, while the crowd around him was seized with alarm, he only glanced in the direction of the first explosion at the marathon.
Tsarnaev then calmly but rapidly began moving away from his knapsack. Ten seconds later, it exploded, driving nails and BB pellets into spectators near the storied race’s finish line.
The Tsarnaevs, immigrants of Chechen descent, had lived in the U.S. for more than a decade. Investigators are working with Russian authorities as they focus on a six-month trip that the older brother took last year to Chechnya and neighboring Dagestan, both regions of Russia that have been roiled by Islamist separatist movements. During the trip, the older brother became more deeply involved in Islam, his aunt, Patimat Suleimanova, 62, said in interviews with reporters in Makhachkala, Dagestan.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is under scrutiny by some members of Congress for its handling of a tip from Russian authorities before the trip that the older brother was turning to Islamist extremism. The FBI investigated after receiving the information in 2011 and closed its inquiry when it found no evidence of terrorist activity, the agency said in a statement.
The charges against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were unsealed yesterday as rituals of grieving and recovery proceeded in Boston. The city observed a moment of silence at 2:50 p.m., the time the first of the bombs exploded one week earlier. Mourners stood 15 deep outside a funeral mass yesterday for one of the victims, 29-year-old Krystle Campbell.
The FBI returned a four-block crime scene at the blast site back to the city’s control in a closed ceremony, indicating that investigators have mostly completed the task of gathering evidence there. To mark the transition, the FBI presented Mayor Thomas Menino with an American flag that flew at half-staff at the race finish line.
Three people died and more than 200 were wounded by the two bombs fashioned from pressure cookers that the brothers are accused of detonating. At least 13 people had limbs amputated because of injuries caused by the shrapnel packed into the bombs, hospital officials said.