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Federal prosecutors preparing charges against Boston Marathon bombing suspect

By Greg Jaffe & Jenna Johnson
Washington Post

The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing remained in serious condition Sunday and unable to talk to authorities as federal prosecutors prepared to bring charges against him.

“We don’t know if we’ll ever be able to question the individual,” Boston Mayor Tom Menino said.

Boston’s police commissioner said that federal prosecutors were still reviewing information about possible charges against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, known to friends as “Jahar.” Formal charges were not expected until Monday at the earliest.

Tsarnaev was shot in the neck and may have lost the ability to speak, said law enforcement officials. He is at heavily guarded Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the same hospital where his older brother, Tamerlan, 26, was pronounced dead Friday after a shootout with police in the Boston suburb of Watertown.

The brothers also are believed by authorities to be responsible for the shooting death of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, 26-year-old Sean Collier, on the school’s campus late Thursday night.

There are still many questions regarding the brothers’ possible links to international extremist groups and plans to launch other attacks in the wake of last week’s marathon bombing.

Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said that the brothers’ large arsenal of weapons and unexploded bombs suggested that they were intent on launching other attacks in the area. “I personally believe they were,” Davis said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

But Menino discounted that possibility in an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” saying, “I’m not convinced that they were planning more attacks.”

In the hours following the Monday bombing, the younger Tsarnaev brother did not attempt to flee the Boston area. Instead he returned to the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, where he is a student. Zach Bettencourt, 20, said that he chatted with him Tuesday evening at the gym.

“I talked to him like I talked to everyone that week,” said Bettencourt, a sophomore from Gloucester, Mass. “It’s crazy. I don’t know how he talked to me normally. I don’t know what was going through his head.”

If and when he recovers, Tsarnaev is expected to be questioned by a special federal team of interrogators from the CIA, FBI and the military. The marathon bombing, which killed three people and wounded more than 170, so far has not been linked to any overseas terrorist network or any larger terrorist cell within the United States. On Sunday, Islamist separatist groups in the Russian province of Dagestan, where Tamerlan Tsarnaev had visited, strongly denied any connection to the attack, saying that their enemy was Russia and not the United States.

“We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims,” said a statement posted on the Web site for the the Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate Province of Dagestan.

Authorities have not read the surviving Tsarnaev brother his Miranda rights, which include the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Federal law enforcement officials said they plan to use a public safety exception, outlined in a 1984 Supreme Court decision, “in order to question the suspect extensively about other potential explosive devices or accomplices and to gain critical intelligence.”

Both Boston’s mayor and police commissioner said in interviews that the brothers appear to have acted alone. A delay in issuing Miranda warnings is justified when suspected terrorists are captured in the United States, according to a 2010 memorandum from the Justice Department.

The Miranda warning would come into play only if prosecutors planned to use any incriminating statements Tsarnaev might make against him. But federal authorities may feel they already have amassed much evidence against the teenager, including possible video surveillance footage.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) said law enforcement officials have recovered video that shows the surviving suspect putting his backpack down and moving away from it shortly before it exploded.

The video is “pretty clear about his involvement and pretty chilling, frankly,” Patrick said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

How to treat the surviving suspect has become a matter of debate in Washington. Four Republican members of Congress demanded Saturday that he be treated as an “enemy combatant” rather than as a common criminal suspect. An enemy combatant can be charged under the laws of war in a military commission or held indefinitely without charge as a prisoner or detainee of war.

In a joint statement, Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) wrote: “The accused perpetrators of these acts were not common criminals attempting to profit from a criminal enterprise, but terrorists trying to injure, maim, and kill innocent Americans.” Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, they said, “clearly is a good candidate for enemy combatant status. We do not want this suspect to remain silent.”

But prominent Democrats disagreed Sunday, saying that Tsarnaev should not be treated as an enemy combatant and that he should be prosecuted by the federal courts. “I do not believe under the military commission law that he is eligible for that. It would be unconstitutional to do that,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The intelligence community is poring through all terrorism-related intelligence in federal databases, including State Department, Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security and FBI systems, to see what can be found on the Tsarnaevs, according to an intelligence official who was not authorized to speak on the record.

Officials also are interviewing Tsarnaev’s family members in the United States and abroad. The family has roots in Chechnya, a war-torn region in Russia’s Caucasus Mountains. The brothers were raised in nearby Kyrgyzstan before the family moved to the United States in 2002. The younger brother became a naturalized citizen on Sept. 11, 2012.

President Obama posed several questions Friday night in addressing the nation after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured: “Why did young men who grew up and studied here as part of our communities and our country resort to such violence? How did they plan and carry out these attacks? And did they receive help?”

The image that is emerging in interviews with those who knew the Tsarnaev brothers is that Tamerlan had become radicalized and troubled in recent years. The FBI revealed Friday that it had questioned Tamerlan in 2011 after being contacted by “a foreign government” — identified by a law enforcement source as Russia — requesting information about him. The agency said it checked government databases and other sources and “did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign.”

Friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev expressed astonishment about his alleged involvement in the bombings. And Ruslan Tsarni, the uncle of the bombing suspects who previously denounced his nephews as “losers,” moderated his tone in an appearance Saturday on NBC’s “Today” show. Speaking from his Montgomery Village, Md., home, Tsarni expressed measured sympathy for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

“I want him alive,” Tsarni said of his young nephew. “He was used by his older brother. He’s a victim of his older brother. . . . I don’t believe he had full comprehension of what he did.”

Albrecht Ammon, 21, who said he lives on the second floor of the Tsarnaev brothers’ house on Norfolk Street in Cambridge,Mass., said he had recently had an argument in a pizza parlor with Tamerlan about the Bible and American foreign policy. Ammon said Tamerlan expressed the view that “the Bible is a cheap copy of the Koran” and that the United States goes to war based on the Bible.

Tamerlan also said that “in Afghanistan, most casualties are innocent bystanders killed by American soldiers,” according to Ammon.

The half-hour conversation ended on friendly terms, he said.

“He seemed really smart,” Ammon said of Tamerlan. “It seemed like he didn’t have something against the American people; he had something against the American government, which baffles me with the marathon.”

New details emerged Saturday about the frenzied manhunt that exploded into violence late Thursday night.

The suspects allegedly carjacked a Mercedes-Benz sport-utility vehicle, and the driver escaped at a gas station, leaving behind his cellphone. Police were able to track the Mercedes to Watertown through the abandoned cellphone, said Edward Deveau, the police chief of Watertown, in an interview with CNN.

When a lone police officer confronted the Mercedes, the suspects began firing with multiple guns and threw explosives. More police arrived, and over the course of five to 10 minutes, Deveau said, about 200 rounds were exchanged. At one point, a suspect threw a pressure cooker bomb, like the ones used at the marathon, and it exploded, the police chief said. “We find the pressure cooker embedded in the car down the street, so there’s a major explosion during this gunfight,” he said.

The older brother suffered mortal injuries in the shootout, and late Friday night the bloodied younger brother was discovered by a Watertown resident in his backyard boat just minutes after police announced the lifting of the lockdown.


Joel Achenbach, Robert Barnes, Sari Horwitz, Annie Gowen, Peter Finn, Julie Tate, Ellen Nakashima, Ed O’Keefe, David Montgomery, Jenna Johnson and Carol Leonnig contributed to this report.

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