Seven unanswered questions about the Boston bombers

As the younger brother clings to life, questions about the bombers' motives remain unanswered.
Photo: Boston and Watertown showed its appreciation to law enforcement AP photo

WASHINGTON, April 20, 2013 — In the midst of the blood and tears that the suspected Boston Marathon bombers left in their wake, questions remain even with the capture Friday night of the younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and the death of his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, Thursday night.

Until law enforcement and the U.S. attorney have questioned him extensively, the American public will be as puzzled by their actions of death and destruction against innocent people as is President Obama.

Speaking last night, following the announcement of Tsarnaev’s capture, the President said: “Obviously, tonight there are still many unanswered questions. Among them, why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?

The Tsarnaev brothers, (l) Tamerlan, (r) Dzhokhar AP photo

“How did they plan and carry out these attacks, and did they receive any help? The families of those killed so senselessly deserve answers. The wounded, some of whom now have to learn how to stand and walk and live again, deserve answers.”

Those are two of at least seven questions we ask the morning after. Sometimes there are possible answers and sometimes, at this point, there is only a question mark or more questions. Yet clues are emerging already, ones that will finally lead to full answers to our questions, and we will finally understand the Who, the What, and the Why behind Monday’s atrocity:

SEE RELATED: The Bill of Rights was written for Dzhokar Tsarnaev

1. What was the motive behind the Boston Marathon bombing: That’s the big question right now, and right now it’s a question mark, one from which all other questions flow.

2. President Obama’s question: How could two young men who grew up here, embraced being Americans, suddenly turn into killers on a mission to murder, mayhem and maim?

Possible answer and more questions: The older brother was radicalized somehow and he obviously influenced the younger one. But that leads to two other questions: just how was Tamerlan radicalized? Is he part of a homegrown cell, a lone jihadist, an on-line jihadist devotee, or did it happen when he went to Russia and Chechnya for six months and by whom? Did he meet with Chechen extremists?

3. Did the brothers act alone or with the help of others?

SEE RELATED: Tamerlan Tsarnaev: A Chechen jihadist in Boston?

Still a question mark: What is bothersome to terrorism experts is that the planning and execution of the bombing was seamless, but the getaway was botched and bungled badly, leading to panicky behavior from shooting two police officers to the car hijacking. Thus the follow up question: Did someone who was supposed to help them get away fail to do so? Or were they just two amateurs who naively hadn’t planned on being recognized?

4. Were there any signs that the two brothers were beginning to change?

Possible answer: According to the tweets and facebook pages of the younger brother, it seems not, but then again the public has seen not everything.

But according to National Public Radio interviews with the friends of the older brother’s American wife, Katherine Russell, 24, and mother of their three-year-old daughter, Tamerlan had become a different person in the last couple of years, demanding she switch from being a Christian to Muslim and then becoming angry that she was not devout enough, making her life difficult. She had also told friends he was moody and hard to get along with. She has been living with her daughter at her parents’ home for the last year.

Tamerlan’s mother, who lives in a Russian city bordering Chechnya, told Russia Today television, “My son Tamerlan got involved in religious politics five years ago. He started following his own religious aspects. He never, never told me he would be on the side of jihad.”

5. Did the FBI miss a vital clue when they interviewed Tamerlan?

Still a question mark: Tamerlan, the older brother, had gone to Russia for six months in 2012 and upon his return, the U.S. government was asked by Russia to interview him. Supposedly he had gone with his father to visit relatives in Chechnya. Tamerlan was brought in for questioning by the FBI. The FBI told CNN that they looked at his travel history, checked databases for derogatory information on him and searched Internet postings. They found no connection with any terrorist group. He was then released.

But questions linger: What was learned? Why was our government asked by another government to interview him? See how questions lead only to more questions?

6. What rights does the younger brother Dzhokhar, a U.S. citizen, have?

Answers: Since he is suspected of terrorism, the government is invoking the Public Safety Exception, a designation that will allow investigators to question Dzhokhar without reading him his Miranda rights. In usual criminal cases, the police tells a suspect he has the right to remain silent and has a right to a lawyer. Under the Exception, law enforcement has the latitude to question him without a lawyer present to ascertain if he had accomplices and if there is a possibility of further acts of terrorism.

7. When will the younger brother appear in court?

Answer: That depends when he is well enough to do so. It could be as early today or Monday. But his condition is listed as serious, so it may take longer than that for him to appear for an arraignment. He obviously will not be granted bail and a preliminary hearing could happen in 30 days. He would then be indicted by a grand jury. Only then does the case and ultimate trial truly begin.

Whether it will be a federal or state trial is still up in the air, and there may be a fight over jurisdiction, which could mean the difference between life and death for Dzhokhar. Massachusetts has no death penalty; the federal government does.

Attorney Carmen Otiz has said her office it ready to begin the case. She promised that as the days of her investigation into the case continues, the American public will start to hear some real answers.

At this point, we can only speculate what led two young men who were pursuing their American dream to trash it all in the pursuit of … what?

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe


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