Boston bombings: Case against the Boston Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

The FBI's case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, detailed in cool, unemotional language over 13 pages of a federal criminal complaint, begins at 2.41pm on Monday April 15. It is then, according to FBI special agent Daniel Genck, in whose name the complaint is filed, that the teenager and his elder brother, Tamerlan, are first picked up by surveillance cameras about half a block from the finish line of the Boston marathon. 

The account of the video evidence, which has not been released to the public, is the centrepiece of the ­federal case against Tsarnaev, a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was arrested last Friday after a shoot-out with police. He has been charged with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction – an improvised explosive device – and malicious destruction of property, resulting in deaths.

The criminal complaint also makes a point of alleging that the bombings damaged "interstate and foreign commerce". Though the reference to disrupted trade sounds gratuitous, it is significant as it allows federal prosecutors to take the lead; that in turn paves the way for a possible federal death penalty, which would not be possible were the case handled by Massachusetts, where capital punishment is outlawed.

The charge sheet contains a mass of new detail about the evidence the FBI says it has gathered against both Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his elder brother, Tamerlan, aged 26, who died in the early hours of Friday after a shoot-out with police. 

The charge sheet says that investigators closely studied film from a security camera set above the doorway of a restaurant, Forum, close to the site of the second blast on Boylston Street, downtown Boston. About a minute after the two suspects were first caught on camera, Tamerlan Tsarnaev – referred to as Bomber One – is seen detaching himself from the crowd and walking along Boylston Street towards the location of the first bombing with a large knapsack still on his back.

At 2.45pm, Bomber Two – whom the FBI alleges is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – also detaches himself from the crowd and moves to stand directly in front of the Forum restaurant near the metal barrier where many marathon spectators are packed. 

Charge sheet
He is then shown on the footage apparently slipping his knapsack to the ground, a detail the FBI says it has checked against a still photograph taken from the opposite side of the street that shows the bag at his feet.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev then spends the next four minutes occasionally looking into his cellphone, and once appearing to take a photo with it, the charge sheet says.

He keeps the phone to his ear for some 18 seconds just before the first blast erupts. The FBI then alleges that Tsarnaev, his movements captured on video, displays highly unusual and suggestive behaviour. "A few seconds after he finishes the call, the large crowd of people around him can be seen reacting to the first explosion. Virtually every head turns to the east [towards the finish line] and stares in that direction in apparent bewilderment and alarm.

"Bomber Two, virtually alone among the individuals in front of the restaurant, appears calm. He glances to the east and then calmly but rapidly begins moving to the west, away from the direction of the finish line. He walks away without his knapsack, having left it on the ground where he had been standing. Approximately 10 seconds later, an explosion occurs in the location where Bomber Two had placed his knapsack."

The court papers also reveal new details about how the two bombing suspects hijacked a black Mercedes-Benz SUV, which they used to make their escape before ending up in a shoot-out with police in the Boston suburb of Watertown. The car owner, who is not named in the complaint, told investigators that he was sitting in the vehicle when a man approached and tapped on his passenger-side window. When the driver rolled down the window, the man forcefully entered the car and pointed a gun at him. "Did you hear about the Boston explosion? … I did that," the man said. The driver appears to have been incredulous, because the man then removed the magazine from his gun and showed him that it was fully loaded, then re-clipped it and said: "I am serious."

The charge sheet records that the driver of the stolen car reported to investigators that the initial hijacker was joined by a second man and that they spoke to each other in a foreign language. They forced the driver to hand over $45 and tried to get more money by using his credit card at an ATM. Later, they stopped at a petrol station where the two men got out of the car. Contrary to earlier reports that they voluntarily let the driver of the stolen vehicle go, the charge sheet says that the victim managed to escape.

When the suspect was eventually captured in his hiding place in a boat in a backyard, the charge sheet alleges, an ID card from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and credit cards were found in his pockets that all bore the name Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. – © Guardian News & Media 2013

Ed Pilkington
Ed Pilkington works from New York. Chief reporter of the @GuardianUS. [email protected] Public key: https://t.co/YC091ij6wo Ed Pilkington has over 19685 followers on Twitter.
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