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22 Apr, 2013 16:56

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev charged with conspiring to use WMD, may face death penalty

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev charged with conspiring to use WMD, may face death penalty

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother implicated in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings, has been charged with using weapons of mass destruction to kill people, a federal crime which is punishable by death, the Justice Department said.

Follow RT’s day-by-day timeline on Boston Marathon bombings

The Justice Department said on Monday that 19-year-old Dzokhar Tsarnaev had been charged with one count of using a weapon of mass destruction and one count of malicious destruction of property resulting in death.

The charges are punishable by death, life in prison, or any other indeterminate prison sentence, the department said in a statement.

According to the affidavit of Special Agent Daniel R. Genck, a Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles photograph of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev bears a “close physical resemblance” to video images of “Bomber Two,” who was seen near the Boston Marathon Finishing line at the time of the attack.

The agent continues that the footage reveals the suspect using a cellphone after setting down a knapsack near the blast site.

“Approximately 30 seconds before the first explosion, he lifts his phone to his ear as if he is speaking on his cell phone, and keeps it there for approximately 18 seconds. A few seconds after he finishes the call, the large crowd of people around him can be seen reacting to the first explosion.”

The complaint does not elaborate whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allegedly used his cellphone to detonate the explosive device, though it describes as “calm” as those around him are in a state of “bewilderment and alarm.”

On Monday, during a bedside court hearing in the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been read his Miranda rights by a US judge. He also reportedly told investigators that he and his brother worked alone, and that Tamerlan had organized and led the attacks out of a drive to "defend" Islam.

Read the full transcript of the hearing

Tsarnaev, a naturalized US citizen of Chechen origin who remains hospitalized after sustaining serious injures during the course of his arrest, agreed to "voluntary detention," but declined to answer questions regarding bail, the court record reads. A probable cause hearing – the preliminary hearing which usually takes place before arraignment and before a major crime goes to trial – was set for May 30.

“Although our investigation is ongoing, today’s charges bring a successful end to a tragic week for the city of Boston, and for our country,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. "We will hold those who are responsible for these heinous acts accountable to the fullest extent of the law," he continued.

On Monday, the White House announced that the surviving brother implicated in the deadly Boston Marathon bombing will not be tried as an enemy combatant, but will rather be prosecuted in the federal court system.

“He will not be treated as an enemy combatant,” White House Spokesman Jay Carney said a media briefing. “We will process this terrorist through our system of justice,” he said.

Noting that other terrorists had been tried and convicted in federal court, Carny stressed: “The system has repeatedly proven that it can successfully handle the threat that we continue to face.”

He continued that as a naturalized US citizen, Tsarnaev cannot be tried before a military commission. Carny added that US President Barack Obama has been and will continue to be updated regularly on the progress of the investigation.

Tsarnaev is being represented by three attorneys from the federal public defender's office.

Screen shot of charges, FBI affidavit against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston Marathon bombings (Image from www.justice.gov)

Following his arraignment, it was earlier reported that Tsarnaev is now awake and responding to investigators’ questions in writing, a law enforcement official not authorized to comment on the matter said.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “substantive” information had been collected during the course of questioning, though he declined to elaborate further, the Detroit Free Press cites him as saying. He further said the neck wounds Tsarnaev sustained may have been self-inflicted, based on the positioning of the entry wound and exit wound.

According to the unsealed indictment, Tsarnaev further suffered gunshot wounds to the head, legs and hand.

The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group - a multi-security agency unit tasked with interrogating high-value suspects – had previously been unable to question Tsarnaev following his capture on Friday night due to the extent of his injuries. A primary goal of investigators is to determine if the brothers acted alone and whether there are any unexploded bombs yet to be accounted for.

Previously, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino expressed his doubts the brothers were part of a larger terror network.  

“All of the information that I have, they acted alone, these two individuals, the brothers,” he said on ABC News’s ‘This Week’.

Menino had also stated that due the extent of Dzhokhar’s injuries, “we don't know if we'll ever be able to question the individual."

Ruslan Tsarni, an uncle of the accused and his late brother and co-suspect Tamerlan, told the Associated Press that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been “used” by his older brother to carry out the bombing. "He's not been understanding anything," Tsarni said. "He's a 19-year-old boy."

Anzor Tsarnaev, who calls himself father of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, reacts as he gives an interview in Makhachkala in this video grab from the footage via Reuters TV, April 19, 2013 (Reuters / Reuters TV)

‘Mama, I love you’

Meanwhile, Anzor Tsarnaev, the father of the two suspected Boston bombers, is set to travel from Russia to the United States to seek “justice and truth.”

Tsarnaev told AP that he had "lots of questions for the police" and he wants "to clear up many things."

Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, the suspects’ mother, said her husband plans to travel on Wednesday, adding that their family would try to bring the body of their elder son back to Russia.

Speaking with ABC News, Tsarnaeva recounted her final conversation with her slain 26-year-old son Tamerlan Tsarnaev, which occurred just moments before a deadly standoff with police in the streets of Watertown, Massachusetts, early Friday morning.   

"The police, they have started shooting at us, they are chasing us," Tsarnaeva recalled her son as telling her.

The suspects' mother Zubeidat Tsarnaeva. Credit: Natick Police

He said "Mama, I love you ” as his mother became frightened and begin to sob and shout. Just as the line cut off, Tamerlan Tsarnaev apparently told his mother that his younger brother was with him.

Her daughter later called her to tell her that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been killed.

On Monday, Tsarnaev's widow said she learned about her husband’s alleged role in the Boston Marathon bombing by watching TV, the New York Daily News reports.

 After federal investigators visited Katherine Russell Tsarnaev at her parents’ home in Rhode Island, her attorney said he had spoken with authorities and is currently “deciding what we want to do and how we want to approach this.”

Details of the fatal standoff emerged on Sunday, beginning on Thursday night when the brothers allegedly ambushed and killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, then hijacking a Mercedes-Benz SUV

The carjack victim, who asked not to be identified, told police that his life was spared because “he wasn’t American,” NBC news reports. According to the criminal complaint, one bomber asked the carjacking victim if he had heard about Monday’s bombings, saying “I did that.” Police believe the pair might have been headed to New York.

For some time the elder brother drove the carjacked vehicle while the younger brother drove his own Honda. After forcing the victim to withdraw $800 dollars from an ATM, he was later able to escape while the brothers stopped in a convenience store. Police used the victim’s cellphone to track the car, Watertown Police Chief Edward Deveau told ABC.

A tribute to MIT police officer Sean Collier (L), killed by the Boston marathon bombing suspects and MBTA police officer Richard Donahue, Jr. (R), shot and injured in a shoot out with the suspects, is seen at a memorial to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings near the scene of the blasts on Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts, April 21, 2013. ( Reuters / Jim Bourg)

The fierce shootout erupted when the pair was spotted by a Watertown cop, who was told not to approach the suspects until backup arrived.

"Unfortunately, they brought their fight to us. They stopped their car because they knew he was behind them. And immediately started shooting at my police officer," Deveau said.

Deveau said they were still attempting to determine the extent of the arsenal used by the brothers.

“My understanding is that there were firearms and there was a long rifle," he said.

"Our other officers were responding immediately. They were seconds behind him. So immediately we had three or four Watertown police officers in a gun fight with these two brothers," Deveau continued.

"At some point they go behind the Honda, open the trunk and start heaving a device at our officers. And there was a huge explosion. We believe that was the pressure cooker bomb that went off. We found the pressure cooker lid embedded into a car further down the street," he said.

The unsealed indictment also revealed that a 3rd pressure cooker improvised explosive device (IED) was discovered by the FBI in an abandoned car.

Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis told CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday that another attack was imminent.

"We have reason to believe, based upon the evidence that was found at that scene - the explosions, the explosive ordinance that was unexploded and the firepower that they had - that they were going to attack other individuals," he said.  

"That's my personal belief at this time," Davis continued.

He said that more than 250 spent rounds of ammunition were found at the scene, and that the ground was "littered with unexploded improvised explosive devices that we had to point out to the arriving officers." Tamerlan Tsarnaev, reportedly got within three meters of police officers before he ran out of ammunition and was tackled. He later died from wounds sustained in the shootout.

His injured younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev fled the scene, forcing officers to conduct a house to house search in Watertown. He was arrested late on Friday when he was found seriously injured in a boat in the backyard of a private residence.  

"He was very slow and lethargic in every move that he made and they could see that there was no device on his chest. They kept creeping closer to him and then they felt it safe enough to pull him away from the boat," Deveau continued.

Members of the FBI Evidence Recovery Team inspect the boat where Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was hiding at 67 Franklin St. in Watertown, Massachusetts, April 20, 2013. (Reuters / Lucas Jackson)

FBI drops the ball?

The twin bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon last Monday killed three people, including an eight-year-old boy, and wounded up to 183 people.

Prior to the bombings, neither brother had been flagged by the government as potential terror suspects, nor was there any intelligence that the Boston Marathon might be the target for an attack.

The FBI confirmed that agents had interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and other family members in 2011 at the request of a Russian intelligence agency but “did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign,” they agency said in a statement on Friday.

"There just wasn't anything there," said a federal law enforcement official who has been briefed on the matter. "We ask that the government get back with us if they develop new information, but they did not. The Russians seemed satisfied, so we closed it."

An official further said it would take “some time” before agents are able to review information in the possession of Russian authorities which prompted their request that the FBI look into the activities of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

US lawmakers have slammed the FBI for what has been characterized as an intelligence failure, claiming the agency failed to react appropriately to Russia’s warnings.

A FBI agent celebrates outside 67 Franklin Street, where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, was discovered hiding inside a boat in Watertown, Massachusetts April 19, 2013. (Reuters / Lucas Jackson)

House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul wrote to the FBI and other officials asking why Russia’s request to look into Tamerlan Tsarnaev did not raise red flags at the agency.

"Because if he was on the radar and they let him go, he's on the Russians' radar, why wasn't a flag put on him, some sort of customs flag?," McCaul, a Texas Republican, said on CNN's ‘State of the Union’ program.

"And I'd like to know what intelligence Russia has on him as well."

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was more equivocal, saying "the FBI or the system dropped the ball" on the elder suspect.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York told the network "There's certainly a lot of questions" about the agency’s handling of Tsarnaev.  

When asked to address legislators’ concerns, the FBI said it had no further comment beyond Friday’s statement.