BOSTON — A federal grand jury in Boston indicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Thursday in the Boston Marathon bombings, charging that he and his brother were inspired by al-Qaida propaganda and believed the blasts that killed three and injured more than 260 would avenge U.S. activities overseas.
The 30-count indictment charged the Chechen immigrant and naturalized American citizen with detonating a weapon of mass destruction resulting in deaths. It said he scrawled what amounted to a confession while hiding in a drydocked boat before his capture in Watertown, Mass.
“I don’t like killing innocent people,” Tsarnaev, 19, wrote in a series of notes on the boat’s inside wall and beams, according to the indictment. But, he said, “the U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians. … I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished.”
“We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all,” he wrote.
“Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said (illegible) it is allowed,” he wrote.
“Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.”
The indictment alleged that Tsarnaev and his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan, designed the bombs to “shred skin, shatter bone and cause extreme pain and suffering, as well as death.” Other charges included bombing a public place and malicious destruction of property. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed during police pursuit days after the bombings.
Seventeen of the 30 counts could bring a sentence of death or life in prison.
Tsarnaev was also charged in state court Thursday with killing Sean Collier, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer who was shot to death as the brothers allegedly tried to steal his service weapon while attempting to flee the Boston area.
Unlike the federal government, Massachusetts does not have the death penalty, so it seemed likely that the federal case would go first. “All signs point to a capital prosecution of Tsarnaev by the feds,” said Richard Broughton, a former Justice Department Criminal Division official who teaches at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.
Tsarnaev, who was seriously wounded by police during the manhunt, did not enter a plea to the indictment. He is being housed at a federal hospital for prisoners in Devens, Mass., and is scheduled to be arraigned July 10.
His father, Anzor Tsarnaev, speaking Thursday by phone from Makhachkala, Russia, defended the two brothers. “All I can say is my sons were innocent and they were simply set up,” he said. “Nothing will ever make me believe my sons could have done that ugly crime.”
The federal indictment laid out new government evidence and this scenario:
The Tsarnaev brothers began planning the bombing in February, and were encouraged after Dzhokhar downloaded jihadist texts, including “The Slicing Sword” and “Defense of the Muslim Lands, the First Obligation after Imam.”
The writings called for violence against enemies of Islam and glorified martyrdom in the service of jihad. Some were written by Abdullah Azzam, the so-called Father of Global Jihad, and Anwar al-Awlaki, the American citizen who was an al-Qaida propagandist until he was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.
The al-Qaida magazine Inspire provided the brothers with detailed instructions on building improvised explosive devices with pressure cookers or sections of pipe, explosive powder from fireworks, and shrapnel, the indictment says.
On Feb. 6, Tamerlan purchased 48 mortars containing about 80 pounds of low-explosive powder from Phantom Fireworks in Seabrook, N.H. On March 20, the brothers target-practiced with two rented 9-mm handguns and 200 rounds of ammunition at a firing range in Manchester, N.H. On April 5, Tamerlan placed an online order for electronic components adaptable for IEDs, and they were mailed to the brothers’ home in Cambridge, Mass.
Nine days later, Dzhokhar opened a prepaid cellphone account. The next day, April 15, the brothers placed their bombs about a block and a half from each other near the finish line, the indictment alleges. A minute before the first explosion, Dzhokhar used his prepaid cellphone to call Tamerlan. Seconds later, Tamerlan detonated the first bomb. Seconds after that, Dzhokhar allegedly detonated his.
Three days later, after their photographs were made public, the brothers “armed themselves with five IEDs, a Ruger P95 9-mm semi-automatic handgun, ammunition for the Ruger and a hunting knife, and drove in their Honda Civic to MIT,” the indictment alleges. Collier, the MIT police officer, was shot once in the head at close range.
They allegedly carjacked a motorist and his 2013 Mercedes and “indicated that they intended to drive his vehicle to Manhattan.” First they stopped at a Bank of America and used the motorist’s ATM card to withdraw $800. Their captive escaped and called police.
The Tsarnaevs fired at the police and tossed four of the IEDs, the indictment alleges. Tamerlan was “tackled” by three Watertown officers. Dzhokhar drove the Mercedes “directly” at them and “barely missed” one officer trying to drag Tamerlan to safety, it says. Instead Dzhokhar allegedly ran over his brother, “seriously injuring him and contributing to his death.”
Dzhokhar sped away, the indictment says, ditched the car, then “smashed both his cellphones and hid in the drydocked boat in a Watertown backyard until he was captured by police.”